When Irish director John Carney broke into the scene with his 2007 musical drama film ‘Once,’ no one anticipated this little film about two struggling Dublin musicians to win the Academy Award. So, of course, it was followed by subsequent fame for Carney, who made his second film with formidable Hollywood stars Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. However, he soon returned back to the stories in Ireland, grounded in rooted musical notes that ring true if listened carefully. The 2016 ‘Sing Street’ saw him carefully flying away towards the idea of love for a change, and after seven years, he is back again, this time with ‘Flora and Son’ – a story about a single mother struggling to find sanity in her life as she grows distinct from her only son Max.

Typically, you would expect Carney to have certain elements in the mix. It would tell the story of lost souls, about their connection and dissociation through music, and the eventual heartbeat that will come about in the way of collaboration. However, what you wouldn’t expect from him is allowing himself out of his musical comfort to a more contemporary musical scene. With Flora and Son, you see him getting into the groovy new sound of the present. Through Max (Orén Kinlan), he is also trying to explore the idea of music as not just a way to communicate or understand oneself but as a pathway to go beyond one’s liking and disliking for a certain kind of music. The story is more focused on Flora (Eve Hewson), a young, single mother whose rebellious nature has rubbed off on her young son. 

The two of them have been living in a small neighborhood in Dublin, but there’s very little to no semblance of a home there. She is always drowning herself in the life she was not able to have for having a child too young, and he is almost always engaged in breaking the law – stealing things that he would like to possess but cannot have due to their financial situation. They have such similar and outrageously threatening nature that they don’t see eye to eye. However, when the local police guard catches Max for what feels like a regular visit, Flora decides to take up his suggestion and tries to force a hobby onto him. She finds a guitar in the rubble, decides to fix it, and gifts it to him. It’s another thing that the guitar eventually finds its way to her when, on one of her drunken nights alone, she decides to take up a hobby, too. Maybe that’s what the universe wanted, or she manifested, I’d say. 

A still from Flora and Son.
A still from Flora and Son.

So, she gets stuck on these online guitar classes offered by an LA-based failed musician named Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), firstly due to her flirtatious inclinations and later to help her understand what she truly wants. Now, there aren’t many conflicts in Flora and Son, and Carney can be brought into the corner by saying that he doesn’t necessarily know how to give his characters depth. However, his manipulative gaze often treads lightly, which is why the optimism and the need for human connection come out at the forefront. Like all other Carney joints, music is central, and so is the romantic feeling between the characters. But now, it feels like a formula. I mean, when you know that there will be romance in his films but they will not be the driving force, you just rid yourself of that bittersweet heartbreak that it leaves you with. 

With Flora and Son, where the director tries to mesh his love for music with a more contemporary beat, you feel that his strongest suit is getting away from him. The music, here, in particular, is not as merely memorable as his other films, and since you also have a central character who feels cut off a cloth that needs mending, the overall impact of the transition feels timid. That said, Flora and Son shines when the music brings these seemingly dissimilar characters together. The power of collaboration rises supreme, and you get a product that is further uplifted by Eve Hewson, who commands the screen like a champion. 

Read More: Double Feature: John Carney’s Once (2007) & Begin Again (2014)

Flora and Son (2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
Flora and Son (2023) Movie Cast: Eve Hewson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Orén Kinlan

Where to watch Flora and Son

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