Flora and Son is a worthy addition to John Carney’s filmography as he continues to explore the profound relationship between music and human connection. In the case of Flora and Son, Carney shifts focus towards a mother trying to salvage a broken relationship with her son but still finds a way to fold in romance from the other side of the world.
There’s a pattern to a John Carney film that’s hard to miss but just as easy to mess up if in the wrong hands. Typically, it will center on a musically-inclined person, usually living in Ireland, who falls in love with music; through the art of making music, they will begin to heal individually, as well as the fractured relationships in their lives. And bonus, maybe along the way, this protagonist finds love. This type of story started with Once (2007) and has continued its legacy with Begin Again (2013), Sing Street (2016), and now Flora and Son.
At the start of the film, Flora (Eve Hewson) is a mess. She’s a crass single mom with a rocky relationship with her son, Max, and her ex, Ian. After Flora finds a guitar in the trash, she takes it upon herself to learn how to play with the help of an LA-based online teacher, Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). What once was considered trash becomes her saving grace.
The most important love story Carney cares about is the personal relationship of the main character with music. Music is what gives each of his films a soul — the heartbeat that reinvigorates a person’s life as they discover meaning through it. His protagonists aren’t trying to become famous musicians or make it in the music industry, but they care more about making music that makes a local or personal impact. For Conor in Sing Street, it started with making a band to impress a girl that turned into a mini-revolution at his school. For Dan in Begin Again, it was coming to terms with the fact that artistic expression was more valuable than the commercial success of an album. And for Flora, it’s about discovering her own enjoyment of making music and getting to do it with her son.
Since music is so important to making a John Carney film sing, the original music has to hit all the right notes. Fortunately for Flora and Son, it does. Since the plot revolves around Flora learning how to play the guitar from Jeff, the soundtrack is filled with acoustic guitars and soulful singer-songwriter ballads that will hit you in the feels. Eve Hewson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt prove to be excellent vocalists in capturing that vibe and the chemistry that comes through the music. Try to listen to “Meet in the Middle” and not get swept up in a wave of feels. I’ll wait!
But the musical genres explored don’t stop there. Flora’s son, Max, is into trap music. As Flora begins to dive deeper into her musical exploration, she discovers that her son is interested in producing music. They begin to bond when, for the first time, Flora shows an interest in Max’s music. Together, they make a song called “Dublin07,” with a music video included in order to impress a girl Max likes. This is literally what Conor did to get Raphina’s attention in Sing Street, and we’re not mad about it!
It all culminates with the song and live performance of “High Life” at the end of the film. In it, it combines the acoustic influences of Jeff with the trap sounds from Max to personify the messiness of Flora and Max’s relationship. She’s a mess; her son is a thief who keeps getting into trouble; she hates how he reminds her of herself. Together, they’re going to keep living the high life they have in Dublin, and it’s pretty fine in their book. It’s cathartic for Flora and moving to the audience.
Let’s talk casting: Eve Hewson is a star, full stop. No, it’s not because she’s the daughter of the legendary frontman of U2. It’s due to her natural charm and the depth she gives each of her characters. Fresh off the success of the Apple TV+ series Bad Sisters, Hewson will blow you away with her comedic timing and charisma. She and Orén Kinlan sell the difficult relationship between a mother and son who, on most days, don’t even like each other. Sing Street’s Jack Reynor is back for another John Carney film, and for the screentime he’s given, Reynor continues to stand out.
The surprise for me is Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his chemistry with Eve Hewson. His mellow yet reserved Jeff harmonizes with Flora’s loud, suggestive attitude. There’s a longing and recognition between them, flirting the line of “Could we be what we’re looking for?” It digs even deeper during the credits when you hear the song Jeff wrote about Flora, “Talking to You.” It’s a duo we didn’t know we needed, but Carney has been crafting duos like this for decades, and we can’t thank him enough.
If there’s one thing I would critique about Flora and Son, it would be how the film shifts focus midway from Flora’s relationship with her son to her budding relationship with Jeff. Flora is the main character, and it’s hard not to look away when watching Flora and Jeff start to fall for each other over Zoom. However, in a film called Flora and Son, the titular son doesn’t get the same level of characterization and growth as his mother. He may only be fourteen, but an extra scene or two could’ve added more to Max.
Overall, Flora and Son is a feel-good musical movie that I will never grow tired of. Sing Street is one of my favorite movies of all time, and Flora and Son is a worthy successor to it. Truly, I hope John Carney never stops exploring humanity’s relationship with music through cinema. He manages to capture something pure, wholesome, and healing through each of these films. The world seems to grow a little darker every day, but films like Flora and Son give a flicker of light to keep holding on and to believe in the power of connection and music.
Flora and Son is now streaming on Apple TV+.