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Flora and Son Movie Review: John Carney’s New 2023 Musical Drama Is An Instant Classic

While it suffers from a conventional story and aesthetic shortcomings, Flora and Son overcomes them due to a strong lead performance from Eve Hewson.

This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.

Seven years after Sing Street, John Carney returns to the screen with another musical-driven dramedy in Flora and Son. While not as exciting as Sing Street, Carney retains the elements that made this movie memorable, alongside some pretty catchy tunes. Eve Hewson plays Flora, a single mother living with her teenage son Max (Orén Kinlan), who doesn’t get along with her mother and has trouble with the law.

We meet the two during a conversation with a police guard, who warns Max he will be sent to a juvenile detention center if he commits another offense. Flora can’t keep up with her son’s behavior and has difficulty being on the same page with her ex-husband, Ian (Jack Reynor), about how the two share Max’s time. After buying a guitar for her son, whom he rejects, Flora decides to take up some guitar lessons through the teaching of Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) via Zoom classes. The two start falling for each other and learning about themselves through those lessons.

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One day, Flora stumbles upon Max mixing a track for a friend, which makes her realize how talented he is but has been hiding it from his mother. The film is essentially a 97-minute-long journey of self-discovery through the three core protagonists of the movie: Flora, who learns to be more confident about herself through Jeff, who also learns a thing or two about music, and Max, whose behavior shouldn’t overshadow his talents.

Flora and Son‘s Aesthetic Isn’t as Strong as Its Performances

The best part about Flora and Son is how it can jumble these three storylines cohesively and convey its message whole. Even if some of the subject matters discussed in the movie could be considered sensitive, Carney handles the material carefully and gives each protagonist a fully-formed arc, even a Zoomed-out Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

You should know, however, that Flora sometimes imagines Jeff in her living room. The camera will do a long circular pan to reveal Jeff entering that space and the class becoming an “imaginary conversation” where the two get to know each other more intimately. But the best part about that framing device occurs near the film’s end, where Jeff makes an actual “grand entrance” on Flora’s rooftop.

These aesthetic choices prevent the movie from falling into conventional territory, but the bulk still feels flat in its cinematography and visual style. There is an excellent title cue at the beginning and end, but it arrives far too late in the film to make a somewhat cathartic impact. A camera recording a computer screen of Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Zoom with a far-too-perfect (and uninteresting) background isn’t that exciting. Carney tries to spice it up through these “imaginary conversations,” but they feel so fleeting that they rarely impress.

Eve Hewson and Orén Kinlan are the stars of Flora and Son

B.ut the film works thanks to the vibrant performances of Eve Hewson and Orén Kinlan. The two are electric, deftly balancing comedic moments with a heartfelt touch. You can see the desperation in Flora’s physical language as Max lashes out at her, but she consistently holds on to him as it is the only thing in her life she did right, which she realizes even more when he is “in his world,” mixing music.

Reynor is also excellent as Ian, a character who is more of a comic relief than anything else but has his fair share of dramatic moments, especially during the third act as Max faces the law once again.

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Hollywood tried to make him the next big action star in films like Transformers: Age of Extinction and Kin, but it never materialized. However, he’s far more talented than that and consistently shows his range with Carney in Sing Street and Flora and Son. His performance in the former film is punchier, though the funniest scenes in Flora and Son almost always involve him.

Gordon-Levitt also infuses tons of heart as Jeff, though he is the most underused of the bunch. The Zoom conceit is a fine experiment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, the framing device grows tiresome as Flora and Jeff’s bond feels artificial (or at least distant with the current technology). Still, the two share some rather poignant scenes, including one where they sing a song bound to get stuck in your head for a long time (for better or worse).

Flora and son image

Not only is Carney a great director, but he’s also a great songwriter. And in Flora and Son, he’s got a few highly memorable ones that should be in contention for next year’s Oscars, especially Dublin07, a deft blend of old-school rap and clubhouse music.

I also have a soft spot for the final song, which mixes every style of music Carney plays throughout the film. With Hewson, Kinlan, and Gordon-Levitt leading the songs (and music), you’ve got a real winner here. It’s no surprise to anyone who ever listened to U2 that Hewson can sing and perform well, as her father is the lead singer of that lesser-known rock band (of course, that last part of the sentence is a joke).

Flora and Son is a must-see if you’re a fan of films with a heartwarming story centering on good music. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel of musical dramedies, but it’s far better than it has any right to be, thanks to the incredible work of Eve Hewson and Orén Kinlan. And if you can see the film in a cinema, don’t miss it. The songs are meant to be heard with the best sound system in the world because there’s no chance you won’t swell up during the final scene, which wraps up Flora and Son on the highest of highs.

3.5/5

Flora and Son is now playing in select theatres and streaming on Apple TV+. What did you think of the movie? Did you enjoy the songs in it? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to follow us on social media! We’re always watching.

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Maxance Vincent

Maxance Vincent

Maxance is a freelance film and TV writer, and a recent graduate of a BFA in Film Studies at the University of Montreal, with a specialization in Video Game Studies.