And here he is again. John Carney (Once, Sing Street, Modern Love) is back with an absolute swooner, the kind of feel-good rom-com that we don’t seem to get enough of nowadays (blame the streamers for giving the genre a bad rep).
One of those low-key Sundance darlings that threatened to get lost in the abyss of theatrical bigwigs, Flora and Son begins with our introduction to the titular character (Eve Hewson) in a Dublin nightclub, a self-destructive single mother, who got pregnant way too young and has regretted it ever since. Flora now divides her time between being a babysitter/ nanny, exchanging choice verbal abuses with her son — 14-year-old Max (Orén Kinlan), the moodiest of all troublemaker teenagers — and drunken one-night stands with whoever she can find at the bar. She’s still prone to the occasional run-in with her ex Ian (Jack Reynor in a hilarious cameo), a once-kinda-famous local musician whose band opened for Snow Patrol.
Flora and her son don’t hate each other — indeed, there’s even a bit of cantankerous Irish charm to the arguments in their cramped apartment — but there is a feeling that, unless reeled in soon, both these characters are on a downward spiral from which there could be no coming back. Determined to reverse this, Flora, in a stroke of (admittedly late) inspiration, gifts Max a dishevelled guitar in the hope that it might unearth some hidden musical potential within him. Alas, a terrible teen tantrum erupts, after which Flora decides to take up the guitar herself and virtually meets YouTube instructor Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) when looking up cheap online lessons.
Flora and Son
Director: John Carney
Cast: Eve Hewson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Orén Kinlan, Jack Reynor
Duration: 97 minutes
Storyline: Single mom Flora has no clue what to do with her rebellious teenage son Max, but both their lives could change when she takes up the guitar as a hobby
It’s the most begrudging of meet-cutes (which almost doesn’t even happen after Flora unabashedly flirts with an awkward and alarmed Jeff), but slowly and surely, an endearing long-distance connection blossoms between them. Beginning with lessons on strumming and plucking, to musings on how music and art can change lives, to co-writing a love ballad together, the two strike up a very Modern Love-ish (I had to) chemistry; director Carney smartly takes away the hindrance of a laptop screen at times, and puts them in the same room with each other.
Along the way, Flora also realises, much to her shock, that her son is musically inclined after all, just not in the way she hoped (he likes to create dance music on his computer). This culminates in mother and son making a music video together to impress a girl whom Max is crushing on — which comes off as a bit of a stretch — but there’s still so much charm in the narrative, that you can’t help rooting for them.
It’s the magnetic Hewson who brings it all together in a star turn for the ages. Best known as U2 frontman Bono’s daughter, and for her role in the deliciously evil Apple TV Plus series Bad Sisters, she infuses the deadpan Flora with an infectious, rebellious spirit that is impossible to ignore. Along with Gordon-Levitt, Hewson keeps the material from getting too schmaltzy at the most indulgent of times, armed with some hilariously sick zingers that dovetail nicely with Carney’s use of music as a method of healing.
And then there is the soundtrack in itself; the original songs are from Gary Clark and Carney, a glorious warm mix of lilting acoustic folk and electro-pop, though it pales in comparison to the filmmaker’s previous hit ventures. Credit must also go to the vocal performances of the lead actors, as Hewson and Gordon-Levitt impressively belt out one charming ditty after another.
Flora and Son does get a bit too formulaic at times — Carney keeps falling too much in love with his own source material — and you wish for the mother-son equation to be explored with a little more heft, but Hewson’s charisma and wit always keep us wanting more.
Flora and Son is currently streaming on Apple TV+