Flora and Son (Sundance) Review

John Carney’s Flora and Son is another music-driven charmer, with Eve Hewson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt at their most appealing.

REASON: Flora (Eve Hewson) is a hard-partying young mother living in Dublin with her teenage son, Max (Orén Kinlan). He is a criminal who is constantly in trouble with the police, while her ex (Jack Reynor) is a well-meaning but unreliable flake. When she finds a guitar in the trash, she decides 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 is simply no one better than John Carney. He has directed a few classics: Once, Start againand Sing Street. Flora and son is very much in the same vein as the other films, and tells a profane, funny and touching story about how even the most troubled relationships can be saved when you find common ground.

Eve Hewson’s Flora is a great role for the rising actress who wowed me a few years ago at Cinemax’s That Knick. She is portrayed as having a hell of a upbringing, with her a hard-drinking party girl whose ways have not changed because she is now essentially a single mother. Her son, Max, seems to despise her, but she recognizes 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 is on the verge of being sent to reform school, so she buys him a guitar in a last ditch effort to find him a creative outlet. He rejects her gift, so Flora chooses to learn the guitar herself, more as a way to stick it out to him and his bass-playing, wannabe pop star father (Jack Reynor), only to discover that she actually has some talent.

The role allows Hewson to be funny and vulnerable in equal measure, and she has a great singing voice (perhaps not a surprise since her father, as literally every article about her will note, happens to be Bono). She is wonderful in the role, as is Orén Kinlan as her son, who starts the film as a brother but becomes more nuanced as the film goes on. As usual in a Carney film, Kinlan is a talented musician, with his character shown to be an aspiring electronic music composer and rapper. This allows Carney to branch out into other types of music than we’ve previously seen from his films, and the final track had the Sundance crowd clapping along to its chorus – something I’ve never seen here before.

Another recurring theme in Carney’s film is how not all relationships have to end happily ever after in order to have a positive impact 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 not to end up together, even though 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 let go of everything to be together, and their relationship is emotional and takes place entirely over Zoom. The way Carney prevents this from visually stagnating is for Flora to imagine her hunky teacher sitting next to her, placing the two of them in the same room. The style portrays their emotional closeness rather than how close they are physically, and Levitt is at his most appealing as the romantic, friendly teacher.

Jack Reynor, which was showcased to great effect in Sing Street, also has a good part as Flora’s irresponsible ex. In another film, he would be portrayed as a monster, but he means it well here. He and Flora don’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 sparked through a hilarious video he shot for his band in the mid-2000s, featuring wannabe Chris Martin, whose biggest claim to fame is once being on the same bill as Snow Patrol.

You really have to give Carney a lot of credit, as he typically stays in one genre (the music driven romance/comedy), but he does it brilliantly. No one makes movies like he does, and each of his movies feels like a gift. Flora and son is no exception.

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