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film review

Flora and Son

Written and directed by John Carney

Starring Eve Hewson, Jack Reynor and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Classification N/A; 97 minutes

Opening in select theatres Sept. 29, the same day it’s available to stream on Apple TV+

Critic’s Pick

If you can walk away from a movie with a tune in your heart and a bounce in your step, then it’s safe to say that the film clicked in just the ways that were intended. And while fans of Irish filmmaker John Carney should expect nothing less by this point in his career, it’s still heartening to realize that the writer-director behind Once, Sing Street and Begin Again still has his musical-dramedy set-list locked down tight.

In Flora and Son, Carney takes several pages from his tried and tested songbook to tell a story of lost souls finding their way out of the darkness through the warm and fuzzy power of music. In the more hardscrabble corners of Dublin, young single mother Flora (Eve Hewson) is struggling to pay the bills while raising her rebellious teenage son Max (Oren Kinlan), a budding thief. While Max’s father Ian (Jack Reynor) is hanging around, the one-time rock star isn’t much help on the discipline front. So in an effort to turn around her son’s life, Flora picks up an old guitar from the trash, encouraging Max to take up a new hobby.

In a slight narrative zag, though, Max rejects the gesture immediately. Which leaves Flora herself to start strumming, eventually recruiting a charming Los Angeles-based guitar instructor named Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to help her via online lessons. Now Flora must begin to reckon with her own dreams – squashed early in her life when she gave birth to Max – and those of her troubled family.

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Nothing in Flora and Son – from the fraught domestic dynamics to the gently ear-wormy music, written by Carney and Scottish musician Gary Clark – represents a departure for its director. But Carney knows exactly what he’s doing here, and has the experience and confidence to pull off his familiar tricks remarkably well. If you fell in easy love with the two songbirds at the heart of 2007′s Once, then it will take only the slightest of nudges to become enamoured by the raised-eyebrow chemistry between Hewson and Gordon-Levitt (whose character eventually breaks out of Flora’s computer screen to imaginatively appear “live” in her apartment).

What’s more, Carney refuses to make Reynor’s character the token deadbeat dad, giving Ian layers to his loafing. And the actor, best-known for being the worst boyfriend in the world in Ari Aster’s Midsommar, takes the challenge and runs with it, turning in a supporting performance that matches Hewson’s spirited, but crass, energy beat for beat, chord for chord.

The only shame of Flora and Son is that, outside of Ireland, it will only be available to stream on Apple TV+. This is a film that soars on the goosebump energy of a packed theatre – Carney’s last number should have moviegoers applauding, even swaying in the aisles. At home, you can certainly dance like no one’s watching. But no one will be around to shout for a deserved encore, either.

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