ReelBob: ‘Flora and Son’ ★★★½
A rough, but charming, family dramedy about the healing and empowering potency of music to help heal relationships and oneself.
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“Flora and Son” is part family drama with some sprinkles of comedy about the healing power of music on an Irish single mom struggling to find her place in life and its transformative power to help forge a bond between the mother and her rebellious teenage son.
At the outset, we see the acrimonious relationship between Flora and her son, Max. They hurl vile insults at each other without a thought to where they may hit.
Max spends most of his time either on his computer or getting into trouble by committing petty crimes. Flora is busy scraping by baby sitting and working various jobs in her blue-collar Irish town.
“Flora and Son,” directed by Irish filmmaker John Carney, is a simple story; no flourishes, no distracting subplots. It’s as simple as a three-chord song.
And, despite its “f-bombs,” it is a sweet story of a young woman’s journey of self-discovery, self-empowerment and responsibility.
On her way home from a job the day after Max’s birthday, Flora finds a beat-up guitar in a dumpster. She grabs it, wipes it down and takes it to a music shop for repairs.
With some new strings, she gives it to her son as a belated birthday gift. Max scornfully rejects it.
An angry Flora simply tosses it in the corner of their cramped apartment. Later, though, she has a change of heart and, after watching a video of Joni Mitchell singing “Both Sides Now” — which brings her to tears — decides to learn to play.
She scours the Internet for a teacher and settles on Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a struggling musician, who lives in Los Angeles.
As her lessons progress, Flora begins to feel more confident in her own skin and skills. She pesters Jeff about his stalled career and the songs he has written, even offering suggestions on how to improve his music and lyrics.
Flora also begins creating her own songs. And as she grows more comfortable with herself, her relationship with Max begins to thaw.
Music is the bridge that brings them closer. Max is into electronic music and, when Flora listens to some of his creations, she is impressed — unaware her son had such potential.
“Flora and Son” avoids several obvious pitfalls. For example, as she and Jeff grow closer via their Internet lessons and chats, she thinks of visiting him in L.A., to which he does not object. Thankfully, Carney’s script quashes that idea, so the obvious dilemmas of a long-distance romance are avoided.
The movie is propelled by the performance of Eve Hewson as Flora. She is fierce, frank and defiant, yet with a touching vulnerability that makes you root for her.
As Max, Orén Kinlan is transformed from a sullen, rebellious son to one who comes to admire his mother’s new-found talents.
Gordon-Levitt exudes a warmth and sincerity in his role as the music-loving teacher who seems content with not fulfilling his career expectations.
“Flora and Son,” which is streaming on Apple TV+, is a heartwarming and charming feature that showcases how music can heal fractures and raise one’s expectations about themselves.
I am a founding member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. I review movies, 4K UHD, Blu-rays and DVDs for ReelBob (ReelBob.com), The Film Yap and other print and online publications. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow me on Twitter @ReelBobBloom and on Facebook at ReelBob.com or the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My movie reviews also can be found at Rotten Tomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
FLORA AND SON
3½ stars out of 4
(R), language, drug use, sexual references