Film Review: Flora and Son
Flora and Son
Director: John Carney
Film Nation Entertainment and Likely Story
In Theaters and Streaming on Apple TV+: 9.29
From A Hard Day’s Night to School of Rock, films that weave music into the story have proven that the musical genre on the big screen ranges far beyond just Broadway reproductions. Flora and Son is the latest example of the alternative musical, brought to us by one of the true masters of the medium, Irish filmmaker John Carney.
Flora (Eve Hewson, Robin Hood, Bad Sisters) is a single mother in Dublin, Ireland, trying to cope with her rebellious teenage son, Max (Orén Kinlan, Sunlight) who is getting into trouble with the local law enforcement and headed toward time in a correctional facility if he doesn’t get his act together. In an attempt to find something to keep the boy busy, Flora picks up a worn-out acoustic guitar. When Max shows no interest, Flora randomly decides to take lessons online herself and finds a charismatic instructor named Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Looper, The Dark Knight Rises), and the two of them hit it off. As Flora explores the possibility of finding her own melody, she finds an unexpected new harmony developing in her relationship with Max.
Flora and Son could easily be categorized as the third entry in a trilogy that includes Carney’s previous Dublin-based musicals, 2007’s Once and 2016’s Sing Street. While there’s no direct connection between the three films, the spiritual throughline is unmistakable as Carney once again explores music, love and simultaneously both an innate love of his home city and a burning desire to escape beyond it. The relationship between Flora and Jeff takes place entirely with Flora in Dublin and Jeff in Los Angeles, and at a certain point in each lesson, Carney lets the computer screen disappear, and we suddenly see these two lonely people together in the same place physically, sharing a tender moment that in reality is being experienced on different continents through the ethernet. It’s a poignant portrayal of the evolving nature of relationships in a socially-distant, modern era, and this element alone makes the film something special. Better than the romance, however, is the heartfelt story of a mother and son who are struggling to remember that they love each other and slowly discovering that they actually like each other, too.
Eve Hewson has been an up-and-coming talent for the last decade, and she hits a new peak in this role. It’s an inspired casting, both because Hewson has both the fire and vulnerability and because as the daughter of Paul Hewson—better known as Bono—she brings an added dimension to a story about the the power of music to help a young Dublinite rise above the oppression of poverty, go anywhere and be anything. Gordon-Levitt is magical as the world-weary troubadour who is encouraging others to dream while running from his own dreams, and Kinlan is pitch perfect as the awkward teenager acting out for attention and building emotional walls to protect himself from getting hurt again. Jack Reynor, who so memorably portrayed the slack older brother in Sing Street, is once again an easily overlooked but essential player as Ian, Flora’s ex-husband, and he gives another wonderfully laid back, comic performance.
Flora and Son is a satisfying and touching addition to the filmography of a storyteller who tends to be repetitive in his themes yet somehow manages to bring just enough of a new angle each time that it still feels fresh and invigorating. If you’re longing for a movie that will make you smile, wipe away your tears and start tapping your toes, Flora and Son hits all the right notes. –Patrick Gibbs