John Carney’s movies always put a smile on my face. From “Once” to “Begin Again” to “Sing Street,” the Irish filmmaker tells small stories about people whose lives are connected through music.
His newest, “Flora and Son,” is the story of a woman in her early thirties (Eve Hewson) raising a 14-year-old son, Max (Orén Kinlan), who seems more adept at getting in trouble than anything else. Flora, barely a responsible adult herself, struggles for a way to connect with him. One day, she sees a broken-down guitar someone’s tossed in the trash. She takes it, has it repaired, then offers it to Max, who’s not interested. He’s more into hip-hop and a girl his age who’s friendly but nothing more.
Since Max doesn’t want the guitar, Flora decides to give it a try. Looking online for a teacher, she lands on Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an American whose music career never took off, who offers one-on-one lessons via Skype. Like Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley in “Begin Again,” there’s a difference in age and maturity between Flora and Jeff. Yet they have an easy chemistry and, as she learns some chords and other basics, the two develop a friendship.
Flora’s interest in playing and writing songs finally gives her a bridge to a closer relationship with Max, who’s constantly wearing headphones and creating his own tunes on his laptop. It also sparks renewed interest in her ex, a former musician now living with another woman.
Hewson (daughter of U2’s Bono) has a natural style and a sweet singing voice, while imbuing Flora with the right amount of desperation to have us rooting for her. It’s also clear why she’s so attracted to Jeff, even from thousands of miles away. As writer-director, Carney finds clever ways to bring Gordon-Levitt out of the laptop screen so he and Hewson can open up to each other and share the same space as they kinda-flirt back and forth.
I give “Flora and Son” an 8 out of 10. It has been seven years since Carney’s last film, “Sing Street.” I hope we won’t have to wait as long for his next one.
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