‘Flora and Son’ Is a Poignant Drama About Musical Ties That Bind Us Together

Forrest Hartman



3½ stars (out of 4)

Writer/Director: John Carney (Sing Street, Once, Begin Again)

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eve Hewson and Orén Kinlan

Rated: R for language throughout, sexual references and brief drug use

Available: Streaming on Apple TV+


Although his catalog is varied, writer-director John Carney is at his best crafting intimate dramas about the important role that music plays in human lives. In 2007, he released Once, the story of an Irish busker who makes beautiful music with an immigrant woman from the Czech Republic; in 2013, he made Begin Again, about a down-and-out promoter inspired by a young singer-songwriter; and in 2016, he delivered Sing Street, a charmer about a Dublin boy who starts a band just to impress a girl. Flora and Son, now streaming on Apple TV+, fits beautifully within this library.   


As a hobby musician who sometimes gets paid to play, I get the dedication it takes to gain competency at an instrument. I also understand how much joy music can bring to the lives of even nonprofessionals. Carney’s music movies perfectly capture this delight, and Flora and Son is particularly good at demonstrating the human connections a good song can build.



The story centers on a young Irish mother named Flora (Eve Hewson) who is struggling to relate to her troubled teen son, Max (Orén Kinlan). She had Max at a very young age, and she is desperate to steer him off a course that landed him on probation for petty crimes. Noting his interest in pop music, she rescues a guitar from a dumpster and gets it tuned up at a local music shop. Sadly, Max – who prefers rap and electronic tunes – rejects the gift. Flora, broken, picks up the instrument herself and decides to learn with the help of Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an online teacher based in Los Angeles.


As the movie progresses, Flora and Jeff form an increasing bond, with music at the heart of their relationship, and Carney demonstrates this with a series of fanciful scenes where Jeff appears to transport into the same locale as Flora. These are beautiful moments, each accompanied by gorgeous music. In fact, the soundtrack for Flora and Son is a treat on its own.


Gordon-Levitt and Hewson have excellent chemistry, but the fact that most of their interactions take place via Zoom surely presented an acting challenge. Most often shown as a face on a screen, Gordon-Levitt had to establish his character without the benefit of considerable body language. Hewson was not as restricted, as she freely interacts with other performers, including her screen son, but the warmth and charm she brings to the role is still noteworthy.



Both actors are convincing as musicians, and Gordon-Levitt does a nice job singing. Hewson’s ease with music may – in part – stem from the fact that she is the daughter of U2 singer Bono (aka Paul Hewson) and businesswoman and activist Ali Hewson. There is, after all, nothing like having a rock star father to help one understand the music industry.  


“Flora and Son” is also interesting because the characters don’t always put their best feet forward. There are times when Max’s behavior (mostly toward Flora) is despicable, and Flora is not a Mayberry mother. She’s had a hard life and this is reflected in her frequent bouts with frustration and an obviously imperfect parenting style. Yet most audience members will likely root for these characters anyway. They may not be perfect, but they are real, and they are good people.


Despite landing an R rating for language and adult thematic material, it’s realistic to call Flora and Son a feel-good film. Some characters and events are rough, but the climax is designed to bring a smile to everyone’s face and – at least for me – it succeeded.


Author Bio:

Forrest Hartman is Highbrow Magazine’s chief film critic.


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