Ever since he burst onto the Sundance Film Festival scene with Once in 2007, filmmaker John Carney has effortlessly brought the world of songwriting and the joys of making music to the big screen and even to the Broadway stage.
Flora and Son contains similar DNA as some of Carney’s previous films, most notably 2013’s Begin Again, as it tells the story of Eve Hewson’s Flora, a single mother raising her troubled teenager son Max (Orén Kinlan), who finds a worn-out acoustic guitar in a bin in hopes that will keep him busy. He isn’t remotely interested, so she starts taking online guitar lessons from an L.A. has-been musician named Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), with whom Flora flirts gratuitously. She also starts bonding with Max by starting to help him with the music video he wants to use to impress a girl.
Flora and Son is quite a simple idea, though things become more complex when you factor in Flora’s various relationships, including that with Max’s father, Ian, played by Jack Reynor, returning from Carney’s Sing Street. Flora is another fantastic central character for Carney, made even more fun by the saucy performance by Hewson, who has been itching for this sort of role to give her a break. Gordon-Levitt has long cornered the market of playing nice guys, and Jeff follows suit, with Carney finding a clever way to make sure that he and Flora aren’t just interacting over a computer screen ala Language Lessons.
In some ways, Flora and Son is reminiscent of Brett Haley’s Hearts Beat Loud, another crowd-pleasing Sundance premiere, and in both cases, it’s as much about the relationship between parent and child as it is about the music they make together. One big difference is that Flora and Son is surprisingly R-rated in its ribald language and situations, maybe to maintain the authenticity of Flora’s character and the setting in which she lives. This is not a meek wallflower we’re talking about here.
While Flora and Son might not be considered a below-the-line heavy hitter outside the musical aspects, one thing that should be greatly admired is the way Carney depicts modern-day Dublin, not overtly glamorizing it, but also making it seem like a place that many will want to visit after watching Flora and Son. DP John Conroy should get some of the credit for making it look so terrific, but Production Designer Ashleigh Jeffers probably helped find some of those gorgeous locations, including terrific rooftop vistas.
And then there’s the music, with most of the songs co-written by Carney with singer-songwriter Gary Clark, who provided songs and arrangements for Sing Street, as well. Clark might prove to be one of Carney’s most important collaborators, outside of Glenn Hansard from Once, as he composes the overall score, as well as helps with the song. It will be a popular and fun soundtrack ala Once and Sing Street.
There’s an element to the last act that might feel somewhat corny. The “big concert” is a third act device that Carney has used before. Having said that, Flora and Son effectively purveys the joys of songwriting and making music, and Hewson’s performance and Gary Clark’s music drives what ends up being a true crowdpleaser up there with Once and Sing Street.
Flora and Son will get a limited theatrical release on Sept. 22, before streaming on Apple TV+ starting Sept. 29.