Warning: This article contains spoilers for Flora and Son.
The image of a single mother on guitar, her ex-husband on bass, their son mixing EDM beats and a guitarist performing via Zoom — a kind of make-shift band we’re told to just go with — is one that stays with you after watching Flora and Son.
Starring Eve Hewson (Bad Sisters, This Must Be the Place), the film follows Flora, a single mother struggling to find self-worth and raise moody teenager, Max (Orén Kinlan) who seems to all but despise her. When she finds an abandoned guitar in a dumpster, Flora starts taking virtual guitar lessons from a Los Angeles-based musician (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who’s a mix of millennial hipster and acoustic pedant.
What starts off as a derivative film about a protagonist failing to balance parenthood and partying gradually delves into a wistfully-resonant character study centered around a mother and son relationship. Music becomes essential for Flora and Max, two distinctly troubled souls whose passion and grit seem to have burned out, only to be rekindled by the rustic fervor of Gordon-Levitt's honest musician.
Director John Carney (Once, Sing Street) thrives at imbuing Flora and Son's heart with Ed Sheeran-esque melodies that shift from Irish rap to romantic alt-rock, cultivating a serene sense of self that meshes well with the story’s simplicity.
The film is memorable and moving, allowing the musicality of its budding characters to drive the story forward. Like the 2009 film 500 Days of Summer, Flora and Son is not a love story. Flora’s relationship with Gordon-Levitt’s Jeff may appear romantic at first glance, but Carney wisely trades the traditional rom-com route for something else, a meaningful message that tells us Flora does not need a man, but the renewed spirit only music can give her.
Gordon-Levitt is excellent, acting as a vessel for Flora’s outbursts and Hewson’s emotional range to blossom. In doing so, he cultivates chemistry between characters and brings a much-needed calmness to the rest of the film’s spiky ensemble. He’s more therapist than guitar teacher, and that’s a good thing.
This is a film that’s heart-warming without being overtly heavy. It doesn’t quite dazzle in narrative complexity or dramatic stakes, and loose ends could have been more neatly resolved; but it has the spark of something new — or rather something long forgotten.
Flora and Son succeeds because it has the aesthetic and feel of a long-lost indie, using contemporary Dublin as the backdrop for a redemptive tale anchored by disarming pop songs that bleed heart and hope into a working class family’s strained life.
It’s a kind of a film seemingly hurtling towards extinction, unconcerned with the potential for sequels, prequels and TikTok stardom, instead propelled by a talented cast and a placidly-charming story.
Thumbnail courtesy of Apple TV+