Flora and Son Movie Review
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John Carney has done it again. “John who,” you ask? While you may not know his name, you should know his movies as the man who has successfully written and directed numerous critically acclaimed films is a musical genius. Think movies like Once, Sing Street and Begin Again. And if you don’t know these films, well go stream them now…or at least after finishing this review. After a seven year absence from the big screen, Carney returns to his native Dublin and continues his winning streak with the release of Flora and Son starring Eve Hewson and the incomparable Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Originally premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January and most recently at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month, Flora and Son has been building buzz, especially with Apple reportedly spending nearly $20 million for the worldwide rights for the film, am amount not far off what they paid for Coda which eventually went on to win the Best Picture Award.
Everything in Flora’s (Hewson) life is a mess – her shoebox sized apartment, her love life, and particularly her severely strained relationship with her 14-year old son, Max (Orén Kinlan), who splits his time between Flora and her ex-husband, Ian (Jack Reynor), who Flora still pines for. Having had Max at young age, Flora has come to resent him for missing out on life and, as a result, not having made anything of herself. She sleeps with random men she meets at the bar, smokes and drinks far too much, and isn’t above stealing from her employer. Max, meanwhile, isn’t unlike many teenagers, buried in his phone or computer, but with the stresses in his life, he’s picked up many of his mum’s bad habits. A habitual offender, he’s now one crime away from being placed into a detention center.
On her way home from work one day, Flora rescues an old guitar from a dumpster with the hope that Max may take a liking to it and change his ways. Alas he does not and she is begrudgingly left with it. Despite never having a love for music – only falling in love with musicians – she decides to take up guitar herself and soon discovers a love for it and her guitar teacher Jeff (Levitt) whom she takes lessons from via Zoom. And as Flora begins to find herself through her newfound appreciation of her music lessons, she also discovers that she and Max share an appreciation of music, as well.
Flora and Son is so many things. It’s a story of hope. It’s a story of love. It’s a story of family. But around each of these stories is the power of music and how it can change everything.
Carney never sets out to make musicals – instead he seamlessly weaves music into his dramatic films. Even more seamless and one of Flora and Son’s greatest strengths is how Carney transports Leavitt from communicating via computer to being in the same space as Hewson. It’s truly magical and makes for some of the most powerful moments within the film. It also highlights how easy it is for people to develop such a deep connection despite never setting foot in the same room.
Hewson is nothing short of magnificent. Her hypnotic blue eyes so full of emotion steal nearly ever scene. So much so that this role removes her just a bit further away from having to be labeled first as Bono’s daughter instead of the talented actress she has become. Levitt is perfectly cast as a potential love interest for Hewson and it makes even more sense when you take into consideration that he pushed himself for the role. His deep affinity for music shines through in every scene.
With Carney writing the music for many of his films (alongside oft-partner Gary Clark), Flora and Son feels like a cousin to Begin Again. The melodies are very similar; Begin Again’s “A Step You Can’t Take Back” and Flora and Son’s “Meet in the Middle” both capture the beauty of creating music, the former in Mark Ruffalo’s mind and the latter in the collaboration between Hewson and Levitt’s characters; and both share a U.S. based character, an anomaly as Carney often bases his characters on the other side of the pond.
Flora and Son isn’t perfect, The film’s pacing is a bit uneven and it drags at times, but it’s these imperfections that make it a bit more real. It’s biggest flaw is also it’s greatest compliment – that Hewson and Levitt don’t share more screen time nor songs as their chemistry and harmonies are exceptional. Just as other songs from Carney’s films have been nominated for an Oscar, don’t be surprised if “Meet in the Middle” or “High Life” join that list.
Music is an amazing art form that can turn sadness into a puddle of tears yet in an instant turn those same tears into pure joy, even if for just a moment. Great music causes the unconscious mind to tap a foot along to the rhythm, or cause a goofy smile to suddenly appear. Flora and Son is great music.
Flora and Son begins streaming on Apple TV+ on September 29, 2023.