March 3, 2024

Film Review: Flora and Son

3.5 Stars
By Jillian Manning | Oct. 14, 2023

Sometimes, life doesn’t go as planned. That’s been Flora’s experience, from getting pregnant at 17 to separating from her husband to struggling to connect to her rebellious teenage son. She lives in a dingy shoebox apartment in Dublin, works as a nanny, and takes out her frustration with life through wine, weed, and wild nights out.

But then she finds an acoustic guitar in the dumpster. Thinking it could be an olive branch for her musically-inclined son, Max, she fixes it up as a belated birthday gift. When Max eschews the guitar in favor of his computer and Garageband, Flora decides she’ll be the one to play.

Now, Flora isn’t exactly what you’d call reliable. Or patient. Or dedicated. And she knows all that, which is why learning the guitar isn’t just about mastering an instrument but also about proving that there’s more to her than everyone believes. So she starts taking online lessons—at $20 a pop—from Jeff, a washed-up singer-songwriter from Los Angeles.

The film starts out feeling a bit gritty and hopeless, just like Flora herself. But once the music starts to play—and the bicontinental chemistry between Flora and Jeff hits the screen—we slowly begin to move from discord to harmony. There are still disappointments and setbacks, of course, and Flora’s attempts to repair her relationship with Max aren’t always as successful as she hopes, but learning the guitar changes her outlook on love, motherhood, and even herself.

Eve Hewson of Bad Sisters fame (also known as Bono’s daughter) pours everything into her performance, whether she’s delivering an expletive-laden speech to her best friend, desperately seeking connection with Max, or crying over a Joni Mitchell song. And though we didn’t get quite as much Joseph Gordon-Levitt as this 500 Days of Summer and 10 Things I Hate About You fan would like, he offers a calming, quiet foil to Flora’s chaotic ways.

The two stars have an opposites-attract energy on the surface, but even through video chats, it’s clear the characters have more in common—whether that’s family struggles or lost dreams—than they initially thought.

Producer John Carney is no stranger to music-centered movies, unlikely romantic pairings, or familial strife. (In fact, Flora and Son was inspired by his own childhood experience of being gifted a guitar from his mother.) Known for Sing Street, Once, and Begin Again, Carney is a master of telling the stories of artists in all their angst and failure and resilience.

Those films, as well as his latest installment, offer a mix of realism and wish-fulfillment that make for a balanced (if sometimes heartbreaking) look at what music brings to our lives. Carney’s dramas also have quite stunning soundtracks, and watching Flora, Jeff, and Max inch closer together through their various musical passions is the true highlight of Flora and Son.

While I wouldn’t rank this latest film quite as high as the other three, it adds another layer—one where the characters are chasing redemption instead of fame—to a catalog of powerful stories.

Find Flora and Son streaming on Apple TV+.

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