See how these character change with the right musical notes.
John Carney is an Irish filmmaker who is able to share his passion for characters and music. “Once,” “Begin Again,” and “Sing Street” are all proof that he ranks with the giants in the smaller cinema. His latest movie “Flora and Son” is a transitioning movie, one that shares its love for music, both created by hand and MacBooks. To clarify, I’m talking about real guitars and the GarageBand app.
Universally excellent performances come within Ewe Hewson, Jospeh Gordon-Levitt, Jack Reynor, and newcomer Oren Kinlan, and Carney is able to adjust himself to a new generation by keeping old and new music styles in tack. It’s important that music sticks to the classic, so it never gets destroyed. I’m not writing this review in the style of a music documentary. I’m writing it for the way it presents character studies, ones that never succumb to typical movie cliches, but actually has its heart in the right place.
Flora (Hewson) is a 30 year-old woman, who has a teenage son named Max (Kinlan), because she got pregnant when she was 17. She could have gotten an abortion, but she needed to experience the miracle of birth to feel reborn.
She and her former musician husband Ian (Reynor)-whose band used to open for Snow Patrol-are both divorced, and the boy is always in trouble with the law and cursing things no mother wants to hear from him. She works hard to provide for him by commuting to do some babysitting, and yet, getting through to him is practically impossible.
She finds a guitar in a dumpster, fixes it up, and decides to give it to her son to find some ambition, but to no avail. Instead, she decides to get some virtual guitar lessons from an LA-based musician named Jeff (Gordon-Levitt). He has written a few songs, while she questions how he never really had the guts to get them out in the world, especially since he suffered through alcoholism in his past. Their meetings feel so authentic, that movie likes to have Flora imagining they’re in the same room together.
I was worried that the plot twist would be that he never lived in LA, and that was just a background on his screen. But the movie never takes that approach, which is quite refreshing. They would like to each each other in person, although complications in their story put their visits on the back burner.
Eventually, we see Max expressing his love for rap music through the GarageBand app on his computer. He tells her that it works by grabbing some music sounds and adding loops and whatever it takes to make the songs sound epic.
Carney also wrote the songs with Scottish musician Gary Clark, and they both are able to merge with the characters. They have their troubles, but the power of music is able to bring out their best qualities. When you first watch it, you start to question their words and behaviors, but the more you get to know these characters, the more you acknowledge their personalities. Even when they experience some pathos, those scenes are never irritating or typical, but rather emotional and good-hearted.
Hewson is a revelation, Gordon-Levitt has the right kind of charm, Kinlan makes an impressive debut, and Reynor uses more words and less single father cliches. As a film critic of Irish decent, I was able to see some luck in the screenplay and direction, especially when the music segments are able to remind me of visit in Ireland back in 2015. I’m not writing this review to reflect on my vacations. I’m writing this review to call “Flora and Son” one of the year’s best films.
In Select Theaters This Friday and Streaming on AppleTV+ Next Week
This article was written by me with full support of the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America strikes.