Flora and Son

Single mother Flora (Eve Hewson, "This Must Be the Place," TV's 'Bad Sisters') spends her evenings drinking and dancing at Shifters and her days caring for other people’s kids while trying to keep her 14 year-old delinquent son Max (Orén Kinlan) out of juvie.  She tries to get him focused with the gift of a guitar found in a construction site dumpster, but when he rejects it, she takes it up herself with online lessons from Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "Looper"), half a world away in California.  Mom’s on the right track as it will be music that will connect “Flora and Son.”

Laura's Review: B

Writer/director John Carney’s ("Once," "Sing Street") latest is a bit loosey goosey, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as so are the characters who inhabit it.  What it is is an absolute charmer, Hewson’s profane, irresponsible, sexual adventuress really just hoping to tie down the guy, Ian (Jack Reynor, "Sing Street," "Midsommar"), who gave her Max, at least until she starts to try to seduce Jack.  As usual with a Carney film, music is the connective tissue, this time veering into rap, which Flora discovers her son is actually very good at and which meshes surprisingly well with what Flora’s been learning about guitar and song construction.

Hewson’s built up quite a filmography since co-starring with Sean Penn in Paolo Sorrentino’s criminally under seen 2011 oddball “This Must Be the Place,” Bono’s daughter portraying everything from a Goth teen, 1800’s nurse in Soderbergh’s HBO series ‘The Knick’ and most recently a Bad Sister, the role closest to Flora in spirit.  But although she’s been a daughter (“Enough Said”), this is her first time out as a mom and Hewson’s messy portrayal is the absolute heart of the film.  After this, her filming schedule should pick up dramatically.

Flora is the central force connecting all the film’s characters, from Kev (Paul Reid), the sympathetic juvenile officer to her overburdened best friend and sounding board Kathy (Marcella Plunkett, "Sing Street") and Ian’s current squeeze Juanita (Sophie Vavasseur), who Flora disses in song on the spot.  But while Ian is evidence of her thing for musicians, the two main men in her life become Jeff and Max.

Flora’s wine induced sauciness keeps Jeff off balance until he finally hits on a ploy to make her get serious about his lessons.  Ridiculing her favorite song (James Blunt’s ‘You’re Beautiful’), Jeff sends her some Joni Mitchell, moving Flora to tears and inspiring her.  When she discovers what Max has done with GarageBand, she begins to work with him in his quest to win Samantha (Alex Deegan), shooting a music video with him around Dublin, and that experience leads her to begin working to improve the song Jeff wrote that went nowhere.  This may all sound far fetched, but Hewson sells it completely, Carney bringing Gordon-Levitt through her laptop screen to join her on her rooftop for an incredibly romantic scene.

The film’s central climax – will Flora take the money she’s saved to fly to L.A.? – is quickly resolved, the film wrapping hastily in a Dublin pub with its titular patchwork quilt of a band (so hastily that we don’t hear the song Jeff wrote about Flora until the closing credits roll).  The scene is as much about Dublin audiences as it is the band itself, Carney ending with a snarky heckler’s comment, an amusing Irish Goodbye as his camera floats out into the streets.

Robin's Review: B

Single mom, Flora (Eve Hewson), is in a parental battle with her budding-criminal teenage son, Max (Oren Kinlan). When she rescues an old guitar from a dumpster, she thinks it will give him the positive outlet he needs. She is not prepared for the Pandora’s Box of youthful musical creativity she discovers in him in “Flora and Son.”

My introduction to writer-director John Carney was back in 2007 with “Once,” his charming, music-themed film about two people, who both love music, making music. His latest also happens to also be a charming, music-themed film about two people, who both love music, making music. But that similarity does not noie that each is a very different story about people who love music.

Max, of course, disses his mom’s attempt to interest him in melody making and rejects the battered guitar. It is a turning point for Flora and she has the idea, after seeing a sign for a talent contest at a nearby pub, to learn to play. This leads to an amusing montage of one online music teacher after another pitching their classes. She finally settles on Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a musician and teacher based in LA. A nice professional relationship and new friendship are in the making.

This is where “Flora and Son” finds its level as it mixes Flora’s changing motherly bond with her son with her desire to learn to play the guitar. When she tries to foist the old guitar on him, she is surprised and amazed that Max is pretty well-versed in making music and composing songs. This new-found knowledge inspires Flora to work even harder with Jeff to get better at her playing. It is a nice mother/son bonding arc that goes from discord to harmony.

Another quality, fully explored aspect to the story is the rapport between Flora and Jeff. Their meetings online are light and, as we watch, a friendship and closeness forms between them. The filmmaker uses a clever device to enhance their meetings to something much more personal. It is a nice device that enhances the movie’s likability and you should see it, new, for yourself.

Apple releases "Flora and Sons" in select theaters on 9/22/23 before it begins streaming on 9/29/23.