John Carney’s Flora and Son is another music driven charmer, with Eve Hewson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt at their most appealing.
PLOT: Flora (Eve Hewson) is a hard-partying young mother living in Dublin with her teenage son, Max (Orén Kinlan). He’s a would-be delinquent constantly in trouble with the cops, while her ex (Jack Reynor) is a well-meaning but unreliable flake. When she finds a guitar in the trash, she decides, spur of the moment, to take online guitar lessons. Her teacher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) turns out to be kind-hearted and sympathetic, and soon she discovers that music could be a way that finally allows her to reach her son.
REVIEW: When it comes to making movies about the healing power of music, there’s simply no one better than John Carney. He’s directed a couple of classics: Once, Begin Again, and Sing Street. Flora and Son is very much in the mode of those other films, telling a profane, hilarious, and touching story about how even the most troubled relationships can be salvaged when you find common ground.
Eve Hewson’s Flora is a terrific role for the rising actress, who impressed me a few years ago on Cinemax’s The Knick. She’s portrayed as a hellraiser, with her a hard-drinking party girl whose ways haven’t been changed because she’s now essentially a single mother. Her son, Max, seems to despise her, but she acknowledges that she’s never really been there for him – although now that he’s a teenager, his rebellious ways are catching up with him. He’s on the verge of being sent to reform school, so she buys him a guitar in a last-ditch attempt to find him a creative outlet. He rejects her gift, so Flora opts to learn the guitar herself, more as a way of sticking it to him and his bass-playing, wannabe pop star father (Jack Reynor), only to discover she actually has some talent.
The role allows Hewson to be funny and vulnerable in equal measures, and she has a good singing voice (perhaps not a surprise as her father, as literally every article about her will note, happens to be Bono). She’s wonderful in the role, and so is Orén Kinlan as her son, who starts the film as a brat but becomes more nuanced as the film continues. Kinlan, as per usual in a Carney movie, is a talented musician, with his character shown to be an aspiring electronic music composer and rapper. This allows Carney to branch out into different forms of music than we’ve seen from his films previously, and the final track had the Sundance audience clapping along with its chorus – something I’ve never seen here before.
Another recurring theme in Carney’s movies is how not all relationships have to end with a happily ever after to have a positive influence on someone’s life. In Once and Begin Again, the two leads come in and out of each other’s lives, with hints of romance, only for the two to not end up together, even if they make each other’s lives better through their interactions. Flora and Son has the same type of relationship at its core, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s guitar teacher living in Los Angeles and Flora living in Dublin. They both have commitments and can’t drop everything to be together, and their relationship is emotional and takes place entirely over Zoom. The way Carney keeps this from being visually stagnant is that Flora imagines her hunky teacher is sitting next to her, putting the two in the same space. The style portrays their emotional closeness rather than how close they are physically, and Levitt is at his most appealing as the romantic, kindly teacher.
Jack Reynor, who was showcased to great effect in Sing Street, also has a good part as Flora’s irresponsible ex. In another movie, he would be portrayed as a monster, but he means well here. He and Flora can’t get along, but you get the sense that he cares for his son (and even Flora) in his own way. His dreams of pop stardom are evoked through a funny video he shot for his band in the mid-2000s, with him a wannabe Chris Martin, whose biggest claim to fame is once being on the same bill as Snow Patrol.
One really has to give Carney a lot of credit, as he typically stays in one genre (the music-driven romance/comedy), but he does so brilliantly. Nobody makes movies like he does, and each of his films feel like a gift. Flora and Son is no exception. Flora and Son is now streaming on Apple TV+.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/flora-and-son-sundance-review/