“Mighty Oak” (2020). Cast: Janel Parrish, Tommy Ragen, Carlos PenaVega, Levi Dylan, Ben Milliken, Nana Ghana, Rodney Hicks, Gianna Harris, Alexa PenaVega, Raven-Symoné, Bill Lewis, Linda Ardell Wendfeldt, Marco Drapeau, Thomas Kasp. Screenplay: Matt R. Allen. Story: Frank Ragen and Matt R. Allen. Web site. Tariler.
Most of us have heard of the concept of reincarnation, and many of us – including skeptics – are intrigued by the notion. It’s become so ingrained in the culture that we’ve even embraced sayings like “not in this lifetime,” implying matter-of-factly that there’s more than just one incarnation. But how many of us are willing to look past our doubt and genuinely buy into the principle without definitive proof of its existence? That’s one of the questions up for debate in the new family-friendly/young adult comedy-drama, “Mighty Oak.”
Members of the rock band Army of Love and thrilled with their success. As rising stars in the music world, the San Diego-based band members are happy about the growing number of viewers checking out their online videos, as well as the performance opportunities coming their way, such as a gig to open for a headline act at the Hollywood Bowl. Much of that success comes from the band’s charismatic front man, guitarist and lead vocalist Vaughn Jackson (Levi Dylan), and the astute marketing of the group’s savvy manager, Gina (Janel Parrish), Vaughn’s sister. Indeed, Army of Love really seems to be going places.
But that all changes one fateful night as the band heads home. In an instant, their future takes a dramatic left turn when a drunk driver hits their vehicle, killing Vaughn, as well as the opportunities awaiting them. It’s a tragedy that carries incalculable costs for all involved.
In the decade after Vaughn’s death, the band members go their separate ways, taking jobs they dislike just to make ends meet. When he’s not giving music lessons to a talentless rock wannabe (Thomas Kasp), backup guitarist Pedro (Carlos PenaVega) works in a restaurant and bar owned by his friend, D.B. (Rodney Hicks), a venue where Army of Love frequently performed. Bassist Alex (Nana Ghana) takes a job as a diner manager, a thankless position where she’s subjected to endless inane requests from irritating customers. And drummer Darby (Ben Milliken) lands a gig in a vintage vinyl store, a job where he drinks his days away when he’s not chasing skirts and shamelessly hawking Army of Love CDs. But the person most severely affected by this tragedy is Gina; she not only lost her brother, but also her livelihood, a development that led to substance abuse, gambling and institutionalization. She misses her brother dearly, and she has trouble coping with the fallout of these circumstances, difficulties that came on the heels of a troubling childhood in which she and Vaughn were routinely shuttled from one foster home to another.
But, as unexpectedly as events unfolded 10 years earlier, new equally unanticipated developments now begin to take shape. In the apartment building adjacent to D.B.’s restaurant and bar (a property he also owns), two new tenants move in, single mother Valerie (Alexa PenaVega), a naval veteran with health issues, and her 10-year-old son, Oak (Tommy Ragen). As D.B.’s daughter, Emma (Gianna Harris), befriends the arrival of her new contemporary, she soon learns that he’s quite a talented musician and songwriter, completely self-taught. Emma is so impressed that she convinces her dad to give him a welcome gift, the guitar that belonged to Vaughn, which had been sitting unused in D.B.’s place for the past decade.
Oak is thrilled, to say the least, even though D.B.’s decision doesn’t set well with Pedro or Gina. Pedro wonders why D.B. would hand off such a cherished item to a virtual stranger, especially since he could have made use of it himself. And Gina is upset that one of her brother’s prized possessions was given away so seemingly thoughtlessly. But, when Pedro and Gina hear Oak play the instrument for the first time, they’re blown away by the prodigy. He’s a sensation, to be sure. However, on top of that, Oak’s guitar technique and stage mannerisms are virtually identical to those of Vaughn. The eerie experience leaves Gina with the unsettling yet uplifting feeling that the young axe virtuoso may be the reincarnation of her late brother.
Given Oak’s knock-out debut, Gina is anxious to get the band back together, especially since she believes she may have a novel marketing angle to draw upon in promoting the group’s comeback. It’s an undertaking simultaneously fueled by a curious mixture of enthusiasm (from Alex, Darby, Emma, and, to a certain degree, Pedro) and opposition (from Valerie and, ironically, to a certain degree, Pedro). And, as this effort plays out further, there are numerous twists and turns involving the relationship between Oak and his band mates, Valerie’s health, and, of course, further hints as to Oak’s true identity. The rollercoaster ride on which everyone is about to embark leads to a series of triumphs, setbacks and unforeseen developments.
Reincarnation is one of those subjects that tends to divide people along very defined lines. Many dismiss it as pure fantasy, while others are hard core believers. But there are also those in the middle, borderline skeptics who could nevertheless be swayed by evidence that lends credence to the validity of the theory. In the end, it’s the beliefs each of us hold that determine what unfolds, as is the case with everything in our reality, for those manifestations are the products of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains our existence is shaped by these metaphysical building blocks.
If that indeed is the case, however, why does the subject of reincarnation lead to such diverse reactions? And, in light of that, one might then wonder why have they manifested as they have in this particular scenario? Those are questions that truly provide much food for thought.
For the surviving members of Army of Love, there has been much anguish over the loss of their beloved colleague. They miss him terribly, both as an artistic collaborator and as a friend and relative. They really wish he was still with them. But, if that’s the case, why would many of them (except Gina perhaps) be so skittish about his possible return as Oak? What’s more, it raises another equally legitimate question: Why would Vaughn seek to come back?
Those questions can’t be answered simply, because there are multiple considerations involved in a situation like this, both on a personal level and in terms of “the bigger picture,” and those considerations apply to both Vaughn and to those who survived him. It’s a complex co-creation, to be sure, one with many aims to be fulfilled, even if those manifesting them aren’t fully aware of why they’re doing so or, even more fundamentally, of the existence of the very process involved in pulling it off.
Perhaps the most important consideration in this is raising awareness of reincarnation, providing sufficient evidence to eliminate doubt as to the validity of its existence. It’s one of those “bigger picture” concerns designed to make us aware of the legitimacy of this phenomenon, in this case both for Vaughn’s familiars and, perhaps by extension, more widely for the fans of Army of Love (through Gina’s proposed marketing efforts for the reunited band). Making such evidence available is a powerful tool in helping to change the hearts, minds and beliefs of others, to enlighten them to something about our basic nature that has long escaped our awareness or that we have not taken seriously. That’s an important step not only toward raising our awareness of this particular aspect of our existence, but also of our understanding of our greater selves. And, when armed with knowledge like that, we can begin to take giant strides forward in our comprehension of our higher being and the nature of the Universe.
On a more personal level, there are additional considerations involved. Vaughn’s return as Oak helps the band members heal their loss, most notably through an awareness that their friend and relative is always with them, be it in spirit, in modified corporeal form or some combination of both. That can be tremendously comforting to those who have experienced such a tragedy, easing the pain and providing an opportunity for their “relationship” to evolve to a new form. That’s a bonus to the bigger picture considerations already afforded them, one that’s more heartfelt, touching and endearing.
It’s also a gift to Oak as he becomes aware of who he might really be. It enables him to tap into aspects of himself that he may not have otherwise known existed. What’s more, it gives him an appreciation of a fundamental part of existence that is often drummed out of the beliefs of many of us at an impressionable age. By developing an awareness of such knowledge at an early point in his development, he’s able to potentially save himself years of frustration in trying to figure out something about his basic nature that many of us take decades to discover, if at all.
Of course, at the same time, one can’t help but wonder why it took such a tragedy to bring this about. Couldn’t there have been some other way to produce these results? Why did Vaughn have to end his life for this to happen?
As with any manifestation, our reasons for our creations are our own, and it’s no one else’s place to question them. However, in this case, perhaps Vaughn could see no other way to bring about the results he was seeking with the same impact as this event did, tragic though it may have been. If he believed that raising awareness about the foregoing issues could best be achieved through these means, then, given the results he obtained, one could say he was correct. Who can fault that?
But it could be argued that there was more behind this particular manifestation. Vaughn may have known that his greater self still had artistic accomplishments to fulfill, and his return as Oak could provide that opportunity, both for himself and for a budding prodigy who may not have had any other means to achieve that goal. There’s also a benefit for his band mates, who now have an opportunity to see their collaboration resume. And, with a name like Army of Love, the band once again has a chance to bring a message to the world that is embodied in the group’s very name, something that a weary world could certainly use more of these days. All things considered, Vaughn’s death and reincarnation as Oak could thus be seen as quite a jam-packed, uplifting manifestation, wouldn’t you say?
When it comes to this family-oriented/young adult comedy-drama, as well as its metaphysical message, the film’s heart may be in the right place, but its execution could use some work. This story touches on some serious and thoughtful subject matter, but that material is often cheapened by attempts at softening it to make it less intense and more youth-friendly. What’s more, the family-friendly aspects are occasionally intruded upon by decidedly more adult material, making for an odd combination of story elements. Add to that production values, writing, acting and direction that come straight out of a cheesy made-for-cable movie, and you’ve got an even stranger concoction. Yet, for all these shortcomings, “Mighty Oak” genuinely seems sincere enough in its attempt to tell a heartfelt and insightful tale that will appeal to its apparent target audience. So, if you can look past these issues, you’ll find a modestly entertaining offering that’s likely to please those who it was made for, as well as those with a mystical bent. Just don’t expect epic filmmaking. The picture is available for first-run online streaming.
It’s a pretty safe bet that most of us would like to think that we get more than just one go-round at this thing we call life. Having additional opportunities to fulfill goals that were left unfinished in one lifetime or to make up for past transgressions or to experience the unexperienced all certainly have a lot of appeal, and reincarnation makes that possible. But, as with any such creation, our belief in the concept is crucial if we’re to see it materialize. Should we proceed down such a path, however, with an unshakable faith in our conviction, we just might see that opportunity arise, one whose viability is genuinely sound – and as sturdy as a mighty oak.
Copyright © 2020, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.