When you hear the name John Carney, what’s the first word that comes to mind? Most would say, “music.” For me, the word that best sums up the themes of Carney’s movies is “connection.” Of course, “music” and “connection” are practically interchangeable in Carney’s work. In Once, music serves as a language for our star-crossed protagonists to express a love that can never be explored. In Begin Again, it reignites the passion of two lost stars, putting them on the right path. In Sing Street, our hero stumbles into music to get the girl, but it gives both a voice in the process.
Flora and Son is another film from Carney that demonstrates how music breaks down barriers… even when two people live on opposite ends of the world. Eve Hewson of Bad Sisters gives another winning performance as Flora, a young woman struggling to make ends meet in Dublin while raising her teenage son Max (Orén Kinlan). Max’s father Ian (Jack Reynor) is in the picture, but Flora is no longer with him. Hoping to help the troubled Max find direction, life throws Flora a life preserver in the form of a rustic guitar. Fixing the instrument up, Flora attempts to pique Max’s interest, but he isn’t singing along.
Not wanting a perfectly good guitar to go to waste, Flora takes online lessons with the hunky Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Although Jeff lives in L.A., he almost instantly clicks with Flora, as if the two are in the same room. Carney adds a whimsical element with Jeff occasionally exiting the computer screen to sing alongside Flora (although he’s not really there). This could come off as cheesy in lesser hands, but these scenes are cleverly staged, conveying the growing connection between the two while still emphasizing the distance between them. It’s easy to forget the screen separating the couple, but reality inevitably kicks in.
As charming as this romance is, it can overshadow the “son” in Flora and Son. While Max initially succumbs to angsty teen stereotypes, music eventually opens him up to Flora. Music keeps Max out of trouble… until it doesn’t. This is where we find Flora at her most fierce. She may not always see eye to eye with her son, but as far as Flora is concerned, they’re a package deal. Music mends the broken bond with Flora remembering her top priority and Max finding that no matter what, his mother has his back.
Speaking of music, Carney scribes several original songs with Gary Clark. The soundtrack doesn’t quite reach the same heights as Once or Sing Street, which had zero skips. There’s also a rendition of Both Sides Now that has the misfortune of coming out after CODA, another Sundance favorite turned Apple TV+ release. Nevertheless, the music is consistently invigorating, especially the grand finale entitled High Life. Carney’s films are always smaller and more intimate than what you’d typically see in a Rob Marshall or Bill Condon musical. What they lack in spectacle, they overflow with humanity. Flora and Son is no exception.