FILM REVIEW — Messy but charming “Flora and Son”

Published 12:04 am Friday, October 6, 2023

“Flora and Son”

Apple TV+

Directed by John Carney

Starring Eve Hewson, Oren Kinlan, Jack Reynor and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Rated R

3 Stars

Full disclosure—I am a huge fan of writer/director John Carney.

Perhaps it’s the Irish setting of his movies that calls to me. More probably it’s the use of music to drive his stories. Whatever the reason, I am always excited when I hear that he’s got a new movie coming out.

Carney’s latest is a messy little movie called “Flora and Son.” This is the story of a single mum (Eve Hewson) struggling to raise her troubled son, Max (Oren Kinlan). One day, Flora salvages an old guitar from a rubbish bin with the hopes that it might pique the boy’s interest enough to keep him from doing something stupid that might get him arrested.

The problem is that Max, like many teenagers, wants nothing to do with anything his mum might suggest. Which is why Flora picks up the guitar and goes looking for online lessons. She finds a teacher from Los Angeles (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is charming enough to hold her attention.

This is the point where the movie gets messy.

The story seems to be turning into a romance, even though our potential lovers live on opposite sides of the world from each other. Yet no sooner do the sparks start to fly than Flora begins to reconnect with her son.

It’s a revelatory moment watching the mother storm into her child’s room to tell him to turn down the volume of his music, only to realize that her son wrote the song. She genuinely likes his work, which is all the two need to begin reconnecting as a family.

What’s more, the estranged father (Jack Reynor) becomes a little jealous of her budding relationship with the online teacher, and even more jealous when he realizes that Flora has genuine musical talent.

Could it be that their shared love of music might heal this broken family?

Lest you think that this is a bit saccharine, Carney sets this story in a decidedly blue-collar part of Dublin. That means that we are watching characters who drink and steal and swear non-stop, although the lilting Irish accents make the profanity a bit easier to accept.

This bad behavior undercuts the story’s overly sweet elements.

Hewson is quite charming in the title role, giving us a memorable turn as a young mother torn between caring for her son and chucking everything to run off and follow her dreams.

It’s an impressive performance from a young actress, although her father (U2’s Bono) might have given her a few pointers about holding an audience’s attention.

Ultimately, my love for John Carney movies comes down to the music. There’s nothing here as memorable as the music in his previous films, yet the final scene of the family coming together to play an open mic night put a huge grin on my face.

I don’t remember the music from that scene.

I absolutely remember the joy in my heart watching it unfold.

“Flora and Son” won’t be for everybody. The profanity alone will keep many away, and the working-class environment may prove to be too difficult for comfort. I think that’s a shame.

Tune out the bad behavior and tune into this movie’s lovely heart. It may not rank as highly as “Once” or “Sing Street,” yet I still found myself utterly charmed by Carney’s latest love letter to Ireland and the music that binds and connects us all.

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week Orange Newsmedia and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at sean@seanthemovieguy.com.