Wooden In So Many Ways
When Rock Burdock (Evan Williams) was born his father Corey (Andrew McCarthy - The Spiderwick Chronicles) planted a tree to mark the event, but now 17 years later and Corey is raising Rock on his own a decision presents itself. Following the National tree at the Whitehouse being struck by lightening Rock entered his tree in a competition to replace it and it was his tree picked which doesn't make Corey that happy as the tree will be uprooted and transported across country to Washington. But he agrees on the provision that he and Rock drive it across country in the hope he will be able to bond with his son before he heads off to College within the year. The journey is littered with drama as well as romance as Rock meets one of his cyber buddies Katie (Paula Brancati - Jump In!) along the way and Corey and PR agent Faith (Kari Matchett - Lead with Your Heart) become friendly.
Now I'm not an American and so I'm not up on what is what when it comes to National symbols but as far as I'm aware America's National Tree is the Oak and it is not a single Oak but the Oak as a collective. So the fact that "The National Tree" has this set up of the existing National tree being struck by lightning and a new one being sourced appears to be more fiction than fact. Ironically if they had called this "The National Christmas Tree" then maybe it would have made more sense.
Anyway with the line between fact and fiction completely destroyed what "The National Tree" is really about is a road trip where a father hopes to bond with his teenage son as they transport their tree across country to become the next National tree. And with any road trip movie there is a series of dramas such as a brush with a forest fire, over zealous fans that turn out for the regular publicity stops and an ending which has some drama. Add to this not one but two romantic subplots as Rock hooks up with Katie, a friend he met online, and his father Corey hooking up with Faith, the PR woman who works for a toy company funding the road trip. But here is the thing, as a movie which is meant to mainly be about a father and son bonding there is very little bonding going on despite a new found respect for each other by the time the movie ends.
Part of the issue is that all the drama is forced and as the drama is supposed to tie in with Rock and Corey bonding it doesn't really work. The drama of them driving through the heart of a forest fire is a perfect example of how forced it is, these scenes feel too manufatured to the point of being cringe worthy with fake macho dialogue to make it even more cringe worthy. And that is not the worst of it as every time there is drama it feels unnatural because it's all over emphasised as is the case with the romantic subplots.
Forced is what you have to say about the performances with Andrew McCarthy seriously struggling to play Corey who struggles to connect with his son Rock. Those looks he gives of being frustrated are poor as are his attempts to show awkwardness when it comes to asking Faith out to dinner, it just feels wrong. And sadly the same can be said of Evan Williams who plays Rock, Kari Matchett as Faith and Paula Brancati as Katie as all the drama is over acted by one and all.
What this all boils down to is that "The National Tree" is sadly another disappointment which seems to focus on the wrong things. What it sounds like it should be is an emotional father and son bonding movie but instead it is a dull road trip movie punctuated by forced drama and a couple of romantic subplots which in turn ends up muting its charm.