Eve Hewson shines as a single mother finding a new passion for music in John Carney’s latest comedy

Flora And Son

Source: Sundance Film Festival

‘Flora And Son’

Dir-scr: John Carney. US, Ireland. 2023. 96mins

When young single mother Flora (Eve Hewson) finds a beaten-up acoustic guitar in a skip, she decides to give it to her troubled 14-year-old son – but Max (Oren Kinlan), an aspiring rapper, rejects the gift. Out of bloody-minded defiance rather than any real musical affinity, Flora decides to learn it herself and embarks on zoom tutorials with LA-based Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The latest film from writer-director John Carney - in which the DNA of his previous pictures is evident throughout - is an engaging comedy which suggests that pleasing, unchallenging guitar-pop can mend relationships and bridge cultural gaps.

The music itself is rather uneven

Like Once, Flora And Son gets its romantic spark from the shared songwriting language of two individuals who hail from different countries. In common with Sing Street, music is the key to social acceptance for a slightly awkward teenage misfit. The chaos of the central character – Flora subsists on wine and cigarettes, and spends most of her time on the dancefloor of Dublin club Shifters – informs the storytelling of this very likeable picture, driven by a barnstorming turn from Hewson. And while it might not match the commercial potential of some of Carney’s previous pictures, Flora And Son,  which was picked up at Sundance by Apple, is a crowd-pleaser that could enjoy modest theatrical success. It lacks neat romantic closure, but delivers a satisfying strengthening of a slightly tattered mother-son bond.

It’s not that music is unimportant to Flora, who would be the first to admit that her horizons have shrunk considerably since she became a mother at 17. The film’s slow-motion opening shot shows Flora and her bast mate hurtling towards the dancefloor, summoned by a particularly banging track. But, later, she struggles to think of a favourite song (her eventual choice, ‘You’re Beautiful’ by James Blunt, is “not acceptable” says Jeff) and claims that she only wants to learn a guitar to impress men. But when Jeff plays for her she starts to take notice and his homework – listening to Joni Mitchell performing ‘Clouds’ – moves her to tears.

Meanwhile, Max (who is, according to the dour Garda from the Juvenile Liaison Program, on a fast track to a life of crime) is pottering on his laptop creating his own music. Soon, the frequent arguments between mother and son give way to discussions about drum tracks and reverbs.

The music itself is rather uneven, with Max’s compositions a little on the bland side. But when Flora and Jeff, although separated by an ocean, start to write music together remotely, the songs have undeniable power pop credentials. Carney transports Jeff into Flora’s kitchen and onto the rooftop of her Dublin apartment block to capture the meeting of minds and, gradually, hearts. But even when he’s not beamed into her life through a computer screen, Jeff as a character struggles to match the full-bore charisma of Flora – Hewson, gifted with a wealth of elaborately profane dialogue, is a force of nature.

Production company: Likely Story, Treasure Entertainment

Worldwide distribution: Apple

Producers: Anthony Bregman, John Carney, Peter Cron, Rebecca O’Flanagan, Robert Walpole

Cinematography: John Conroy

Production design: Ashleigh Jeffers

Editing: Stephen O’Connell

Music: Gary Clark, John Carney

Main cast: Eve Hewson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Orén Kinlan, Jack Reynor