Trite and smug, John Carney has unleashed yet another twee exploration of the power of music onto the world, one with a lot less charm than his previous, the winsome Sing Street. Flora and Son, starring Eve Hewson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, deals with the arrested development of a young mom at war with her rebellious teenage son and looking for an outlet to help them content with their turbulent relationship. Unfortunately, especially when compared to other recent Sundance musical family flicks (its own subgenre now, mayhaps?) such as Hearts Beat Loud or even Coda (of which it shares Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” as a powerful musical moment cue) the result is tepid in comparison. Despite all of the attempts to make us care about these characters and their emotional plights, there’s never a moment in the film where their struggles become engaging, nor are their triumphs emotionally potent. It’s by the numbers passing itself off as profound.
Hewson plays Flora, working odd jobs as a part-time nanny to help pay the bills. Her ex is still relatively in the picture, and Jack Reynor brings an affability to his character, explaining why Flora would’ve fallen for him in the first place despite his near-constant fumbling. A former professional bass player, Flora’s also always been drawn to music, something that’s introduced early as we meet her fleeing towards the dance floor, a house and electronic fanatic. In her early thirties with a 14-year-old son, Max (Orén Kinlan), her life is made harder by his resistance to her parenting and her combative demeanor when it comes to any mistakes he makes, taking part in petty crimes such as thievery and getting into fights. When she tries to find him a hobby to help him stay out of trouble, it instead becomes her own when she begins getting guitar lessons from Levitt’s Jack.
Their relationship might have been more interesting, especially with the two being split between living in Dublin (Flora) and LA (Jack), if the film had ever tried to deliberate on what its focus needed to be. Is this a story about a mother and son and the reconciling of their relationship through bonding over a mutual interest? Is it a romance about two souls who find one another and help reignite the other’s passions through music? Is it a dramedy about a woman who consistently can’t seem to get out of her way? It’s all of the above and nothing with the messily written script that tries to cram in as many narrative beats as possible in a runtime of just over 90 minutes.
Some sequences work. Hewson is believable, almost too believable, as Flora, a woman who believes she deserves better than she got, though she does little to take action to improve her lot. But it’s refreshing to see a mother in the film so at odds with her teenage son, the two constantly butting heads with her patience for his bull in the negatives. But their moment of bonding when she first hears music that he created is brimming with charisma that Flora and Son needed to utilize better. Their dynamic is the winning one.
Meanwhile, Hewson and Levitt share little chemistry, with Hewson and Reynor being much more electric when they’re on screen together. Levitt adapts an odd vocal cadence, trying to slow the rhythm of his delivery into something more soothing and tentative, weary even. But he’s much better when he comes alive, engaged in the back and forth between him and Flora. Unfortunately, he’s also saddled with the most cringe-inducing dialogue of the film, having to speak about how music is a missing part of our souls and how love songs shouldn’t just be about positive yet, frankly, vain affirmations. He goes on a diatribe about the significance of Flora having learned how to strum a C chord when, in that time, he could’ve simply taught her another, though, to him, that would be missing the point.
And here is where I take issue with Carney’s work despite loving Sing Street and finding his other work relatively harmless. For a director who, for all intent and purposes, seems to love music or, at the very least, wants his films to represent that notion, there’s very little actual love felt for the art form in his films. Sure, there’s the collaborative nature of creation that is celebrated in his work and, to be fair is the source of another one of the strongest scenes of the film. Still, there’s no reverence found in his filmmaking style, nothing in the songs or the way music is talked about in Flora and Son to suggest a filmmaker with a passion for songwriting. If not for a mention of the late, great producer and songwriter SOPHIE, there’d be little here that would make it seem like Carney goes out of his way to discover new, exciting music.
Almost Famous is a film made by a director who loves music, and it’s evident in every stitching of that movie. Flora and Son is unsure of what exactly it’s interested in at all.
However, Hewson is the real star, and she makes a meal of the material she’s given. Flora and Son might get lost in the story it’s trying to tell, but Hewson is always captivating. It’s a shame that the songs written for the film or the film itself couldn’t keep up with its star’s radiance.
Flora and Son is available now to stream on Apple TV+.
Flora and Son
Flora and Son might get lost admits the story it’s trying to tell, but Hewson is always captivating. It’s a shame then that the songs written for the film or the film itself couldn’t keep up with its star’s radiance.