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Flora and Son ★★★★



Director: John Carney

Cast: Eve Hewson, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Jack Reynor

Release:  29th September 2023 (Apple TV+)

John Carney has built a reputation with stellar small-scale projects, often focused around music and aspiring musicians and the links music can cause between people who otherwise may not have much in common. This is best reflected in the acclaimed Once, Begin Again and Sing Street. His latest film, which also incorporates music heavily into its themes and story, is Flora and Son, his first film in seven years. It played at Sundance in January to a strong reception and played at Toronto Film Festival.

Flora (Eve Hewson) is a struggling mum, trying to make ends meet and care for her troublesome son Max, who is constantly getting into trouble, often with the law. The local police decide that Max should find a hobby, and Flora finds a discarded guitar, thinking this may help. Ultimately, it proves less Max’s salvation than Flora’s own, opening a new world of possibilities through the teaching of Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Jeff based in LA, with the pair communicating over video calls.

Hewson and Gordon Levitt are terrific, showing Flora’s anger at the world and dissatisfaction with how she and Max’s lives have turned out and wanting something more, while Jeff is a failed musician who never entirely made it. Both feel reinvigorated by the other, with Jeff’s lessons giving Flora a sense of routine and purpose and Flora helping Jeff’s music find new meaning. The pair share electric chemistry, and Carney employs clever tricks with the video calls and fantastical sequences where they are in the same room, often built around the music they are working on.

Jack Reynor, a Carney regular, is used more sparingly. Still, the contrast between his ambitions and attitude to that of Flora’s is effective and a world away from the perennial optimist Brendan in Sing Street. Orén Kinlan shows himself as one to watch as Max shows his angst at the world but also a sense of warmth and an evident budding passion for music; it is a joy to see his relationship with Flora grow and evolve as the film progresses, a trajectory that couldn’t be further from where they are at the start.

As with Sing Street and Once, the tunes themselves do a lot of heavy lifting, with Carney and Scottish musician and songwriter Gary Clark penning the songs that help elevate the mood and show musical talents for the cast, with Gordon-Levitt reportedly wanting to make music in a film for many years.

Flora and Son retains the feel-good, crowd-pleasing vibe of Carney’s previous work but with a harder edge and eventually lightens, which makes it all the more rewarding. Hewson has been a supporting part in Bad Sisters, but perhaps this may open up more leading roles for her, and Joseph Gordon Levitt is always a welcome sight on screen. Fans of Carney’s previous work will surely lap this up, and it will prove another hit for Apple TV’s continued impressive roster. Let’s hope it’s not seven years until Carney’s next film.

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