We first meet Flora (Eve Hewson) inside a club. She’s drunk, sweaty and dancing like a maniac. She bounces and shakes with a violent intensity bordering on deranged. While other folks hit the club in pursuit of a good time, Flora is there to avoid a bad time back at home. If she can rock and groove hard enough, she can lose herself in the moment and forget the impending misery tomorrow inevitably brings.
Flora’s life didn’t pan out the way she hoped for. She gave birth to her son Max (Orén Kinlan) at 17 when she dropped out of school and married Ian (Jack Reynor), the bass player in a band that was going places.
Now, 14 years later, she’s divorced, working dead-end jobs, and crammed into a tiny apartment with Max, who’s a disrespectful little jerk.
To be fair, Flora isn’t easy to deal with. She’s foul-mouthed and temperamental. Her profane rants are often fueled by the glass of cheap wine glued to her hand. And she never wastes an opportunity to tell her son what a douchebag he is.
But who can blame Max when his dad barely has time for him and his mom shows up the day after his birthday with a gift she found in the trash? When Max refuses the trash guitar, Flora decides to take lessons.
In true Flora fashion, the first lesson goes poorly after she makes her instructor, Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), uncomfortable. However, Jeff appreciates her bluntness and continues their sessions. Poring herself into music ignites something inside Flora, helping her discover common ground with Max, who’s also an aspiring musician.
Making things interesting, there might just be a bit of romantic chemistry with Jeff, even though he lives halfway across the globe. Are things finally improving for Flora, or is she doomed to be haunted by mistakes from her past?
If Flora and Son is your first John Carney movie, you’re in for a treat. And if you’re a fan of his other films, know that like a fine wine, the writer-director keeps improving with age. Carney is in top form here with a delightful and entertaining musical dramedy made to soothe your soul.
We’ve all seen plenty of feel-good movies, so going into Flora and Son, you have a strong sense of where the story will go. Obviously, there’s no big swerve where Carney goes full-on Ari Aster – the characters end up in a better place then where they start. Although, the characters are so compelling and their world so well-realized that if Carney hit every rom-com cliché, it would still make for a worthwhile journey.
However, Carney doesn’t go the obvious route here. The characters wants and desires don’t align with the viewers’ expectations, and that makes for a much more compelling film.
Flora and Son is closer in spirit to a film like Rocky, where victory isn’t necessarily a huge win. Success can also come from proving something to oneself.
At first glance, this story is about finding romance and making it in the music industry. But those plot points are just vehicles transporting characters towards more meaningful ways of experiencing life. Romance and fame are like the carrot and the stick leading Flora and Max toward self-actualization. That’s a big word, but it means reaching your potential and finding fulfillment in what you do.
So many inspirational films are about chasing big dreams. But big dreams aren’t the only dreams worth pursuing. You could strive to bake the perfect loaf of bread or walk barefoot on a beach at sunrise. But the critical thing is you must do it for yourself, and not to impress others.
Carney wonderfully captures the exhilaration that comes along with discovering your passion. Both Flora and Max get into music for attention and outside validation. But they fall in love with music for the ineffable way it enriches their lives. Their appreciation for music allows them to see the world with new perspectives and ultimately understand each other better.
Hewson’s always been a superb talent, but she’s never been better than she is here. Flora is a tempest of emotions, you can feel her deeply-rooted melancholy stirring below the surface. She is selfish and capable of making the most vicious comment when she’s threatened or hurt. But she’s also ferociously loving.
Hewson and Gordon-Levitt have delightful chemistry. You can feel the heat developing between them even as they spend much of the film talking to each other through laptop screens. They’re both broken in ways the other relates to. Even though they’ve both lost sight of their own dreams, they see potential in each other. It makes sense why these two people would fall for one another. Their chemistry doesn’t just feel anointed by the rom-com gods.
Flora and Son delivers all that you want from a John Carney film. It’s hopeful, charming, and full of great performances. And of course, it features another excellent score full of catchy music that will be stuck in your head long after the credits roll.