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Review: Eve Hewson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt Make Sweet Music Together in 'Flora and Son'

"I was 17 with a screaming child on my lap. This can't be my story. But, without him, I have nothing."

Irish writer and director John Carney has delighted audiences for years with feel-good films meant to convey the power of music. Music has been a mainstream part of Carney's work, starting with the Oscar-winning "Once" and leading to lesser-known projects like "Begin Again" and the coming-of-age dramedy "Sing Street." Now, Carney is introducing his next opus by way of musician Gary Clark with the dark comedy "Flora and Son."

Starring Eve Hewson as the titular single mother, "Flora and Son" is set in the mean streets of Dublin, where Flora is a nanny by day and partier by night. Saddled up with a teenage son, Max (Orén Kinlan), she had with her ex-boyfriend Ian (Jack Reynor), Flora tries her best as a single parent to lead a life worth living. But Max's behavior doesn't fall too far from the family tree, as the growing delinquent takes to kleptomania as a need for survival. In and out of trouble with the law, Max's rebellious nature gets old fast with the local police, who want nothing more than for Max to find a hobby. But all he does is tinker away on his laptop, which Flora mistakenly believes has to do with video games.

Flora finds an old guitar in the trash and pays for it to be tuned, but instead of encouraging Max to play it, she discovers a hidden desire to learn music herself. She enlists the help of an online guitar teacher named Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who not only puts up with her foul mouth, drinking, and smoking on camera but finds teaching Flora the guitar a fun experiment. The two get along like gangbusters, despite Jeff's inclination to be an easy-breezy sensitive Topanga Canyon inhabitant who takes music and songwriting way too seriously. Flora falls for Jeff's guitar hero mystique as he easily slips into a therapist role and possible love interest.

All the while, Max is tinkering with a sound mixer on his laptop, and Flora decides to connect with her son by coming up with a song he can rap to. They try to make him TikTok famous, which gives the two something to bond over. But will music save Max's mortal soul, and will Flora ever get to meet her dreamboat of a music teacher IRL, even if he's thousands of miles away?

"Flora and Son" is a testament to music and the influence songwriting has on our current culture. Not only can music bring a sense of comfort, but John Carney's sensibilities behind the camera eke out a strange feeling for Jeff and Flora that amounts to a proverbial warm hug. As the saying goes, "They make beautiful music together," but their Dublin/Los Angeles romance might be too far for the two to be genuinely compatible. Flora's disastrous behavior as she tries to mend her relationship with her son and ex continues to throw her off her game, but Jeff's weekly Zoom calls bring much-needed stability.

Flora, and in essence, the audience watching her, gain a new perspective and admiration for music, singing, Joni Mitchell, and connection through chords. One would think the songs over the computer screen could be tedious at best. Still, Carney and company inject authenticity and likability into these sequences that make the film sparkle. His use of actors playing guitar over the computer and superimposing them into the same room together breathes life into an otherwise somber presentation. The film is dirty, honest, sweet, and harmonious…a challenging combination that works well with Hewson and Gordon-Levitt's undeniable charisma in the forefront.

John Carney is known for musical numbers that trend toward melodies in his films rather than a punk rock edge that Dublin is well-equipped for. However, "Flora and Son" straddles that edge for much of the film and gives way to Carney's trademark dramedy mixed with tactful appreciation for finding a diamond in the rough. Even though many of his films are similar in their narrative styles, "Flora and Son" stands apart from the pack by delivering flawed characters amongst a less-than-climactic ending.

"Flora and Son" is charming, deliciously soulful, naughty with a hint of sarcasm, and chock full of well-timed music made by its lead characters willing to step out of their comfort zones to just FEEL something. It presents a side of Dublin where self-actualization and acceptance are just one song away. Flora's ultimate route to connecting with her son makes the film rise above its pitiful surroundings. Her desire to raise Max in a healthy environment makes the music she composes lift off the ground.

Now, where do I buy the soundtrack?

Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟🎟🎟


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