FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE YET TO SEE FLORA AND SON, THIS IS A NON-SPOILER REVIEW.
John Carney has really made a name for himself, making micro-budgeted movies all about the power of song. Very few filmmakers have been able to connect the magic of making music to the human condition quite like Carney has been able to during his career. Though his movies Once, Begin Again, Sing Street, and now Flora and Son are all quite similar in the fact that they revolve around the collaboration of creating music… They are all different enough to allow them to stand on their own. It also helps that each of his projects have implemented distinct and unique genres of the medium. And Flora and Son‘s use of electronica and street rap with old-school acoustic ballads make it feel fresh, despite Carney’s familiar themes.
WHAT IS FLORA AND SON ALL ABOUT?
Flora and Son follows the titular Flora, who is stuck working dead-end jobs in her Dublin suburb, trying (and failing) to take care of her son Max, who can’t seem to stay out of her trouble. In trying to find something to occupy Max’s time, she comes across a dusty old guitar. Though he quickly dismisses the instrument, Flora decides to take it up instead. With the help of a guitar teacher thousands of miles away, she finds that music might be the one thing that is able to truly keep her family together.
HOW DOES THIS MOVIE COMPARE TO THE REST OF CARNEY’S FILMOGRAPHY?
I have to admit that I have liked or loved every single one of the director’s films… but, for me, SIng Street and now Flora and Son are his crowning achievements so far. This movie is really able to tug at the heart strings without ever coming off like it’s pressuring you to really feel something. The characters are raw and flawed, just like humans in the real world. Even the supposed “dead beat ex-husband” played by Jack Reynor is treated with empathy and grace. Carney cares for each of his characters that he creates; he never lets them off the hook, but he also gives them ample room to grow and flourish within the confines of the story.
HOW ARE EVE HEWSON & JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT AS THE LEADS?
What makes Flora and Son stand tall above some of Carney’s other films though, is the star-making performance from Eve Hewson. Being a huge fan of Apple TV+’s Bad Sisters, I was already familiar with the Irish actress… but here, she really blew me away. She takes a character who talks ill about her child, drinks and smokes too much, and has a crass, foul mouth, then turns her into someone with so much humanity. I could not take my eyes off of Hewson for the duration of Flora and Son. She’s like a trainwreck waiting to happen, but you’re just crossing your fingers that she will get by without a collision. It’s such a difficult role, because Flora could have been extremely unlikable… but, Hewson makes this character soar.
It also helps that she has incredible chemistry with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It’s been so long since I’ve seen Levitt really connect to a character like he does here. He has been one of my favorite actors in the business, ever since I saw him in Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin… but, his choice of roles in the past decade or so have been questionable at best. Carney is able to bring the effortless charm and charisma out of Levitt again, and it is so refreshing to see. The choice of having Flora imagine that he is in the same space with her, rather than just being behind the computer screen, was a brilliant addition to create that undeniable chemistry between the two performers.
ARE THERE ANY ISSUES WITH FLORA AND SON?
If I have any qualms about Flora and Son, it’s that the last act feels very rushed. The first two acts move at a perfectly calibrated pace, as everything starts to come together in a way that feels genuine and earned. And then the last act feels like it is racing through story threads to get to its ultimate conclusion, that also feels a tad bit clunky in execution. If Carney had added another twenty minutes or so to the run-time, and let his characters breathe in the last act, Flora and Son would have been absolute perfection.
Even so, I absolutely adored this film. I connected to it in so many ways… From the dynamic mother-son relationship, to the oftentimes hilarious and sharp dialogue, to the loveable characters, the soulful, toe-tapping music and its heartfelt messaging. Flora and Son is definitely one of the best crowd-pleasers of the year and I cannot wait to watch it again and again.
Flora and Son will be Streaming on Apple TV+ Friday September 29th, 2023.
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