Flora and Son is writer/director John Carney’s first film since 2016’s delightful Sing Street. Yet even with a seven-year hiatus, Carney has not missed a step as a writer, director, and songwriter. Flora and Son is a wonderful and whimsical tale about the mother-son relationship and how creativity can bring people together.
Set in a small Irish town, Flora and Son follows Flora (Eve Hewson), a young, irresponsible woman living in an apartment complex full of unique characters. Flora’s teenage son, Max (Orén Kinlan), is always getting in trouble with local law enforcement and is on his last straw. Flora tries to find a hobby for Max to keep him out of trouble and finds an old guitar being thrown away. She takes the guitar, gets it repaired, and gifts it to Max, who is not interested in it at all. Rather than forget about the guitar, Flora picks it up and looks for guitar lessons on YouTube. She stumbles on the channel of Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a musician from California, and chooses his class to help her learn guitar. Despite not taking the class very seriously, Flora begins to learn the skill of playing because of Jeff’s passion and way of teaching. Flora also notices Max has a music passion and tries to bond with him on a familial and musical level.
Carney makes movies about how creativity and music can connect us. Once, Begin Again, and Sing Street all find people who are connected through the creative process of making music and bonding over music. Once looked at a romantic connection, Begin Again looked at how the connection can reignite a lost passion, and Sing Street showed the relationship between brothers and their connection through making music. Flora and Son once again finds Carney showing us that creativity can bring people together and change lives. Before finding the guitar, Flora’s life was a mess, and her relationships were shaky at best. Her son was on a path to jail, she despised her ex-husband, a musician himself, and she had no direction in life. But learning to play the guitar gives Flora a purpose and brings her closer to the people in her life. She bonds with her son and his passion for music, she begins to talk to her ex-husband more and grow a more cohesive family unit for their son, and she connects with Jeff on an emotional and musical level despite him living in another country. You can’t help but be inspired by Carney’s passion for creativity and its power.
At its core, Flora and Son is about the relationship between mothers and sons and how complicated that relationship can be. Flora is constantly trying to be a better mother to Max, and we feel her love for him in every moment of the film. But we also feel and understand the anger, frustration, and heartache she feels when she lets him down. Flora and Max’s relationship is the heart of the film and it hit home for me because I couldn’t help but think about my own relationship with my own mother, one that I am fortunate to have and one that has its fair share of ups and downs.
The performances by Hewson and Gordon-Levitt are sensational and easily some of the best to come from Carney’s filmography. Hewson gives one of the great breakout performances of 2023. She understands everything about Flora. She knows all of her characteristics, the good heart that Flora has, and the love she has for her son while also understanding her flaws but never making her unlikeable. Hewson has us rooting for Flora from minute one even when she doesn’t make the best choices.
Gordon-Levitt is equally as good as Jeff, giving his best performance in years. Carney taps into why we like Gordon-Levitt as an actor and utilizes those traits to bring Jeff to life. Jeff is calm, cool, passionate, funny, and charismatic all while being extremely talented with a winning smile, just like Gordon-Levitt. He gives Jeff depth that lesser actors wouldn’t find in him. It’s the patience Jeff shows towards Flora and the passion he has for music, creativity, and teaching where Gordon-Levitt shines. He and Hewson’s chemistry is on point and their musical numbers together are dreamy.
Flora and Son had me completely smitten. I fell in love with the characters, the simple yet relatable story, and Carney’s beautiful music. The jaunty script is a perfect mix of humor, heart, and drama and Carney balances them all perfectly throughout the film. It’s a wonderful journey we go on with Flora, Max, and Jeff and the film’s final musical number almost brought me to tears and had my heart soaring.