'Flora And Son' Review: Eve Hewson Riffs & Finds A Sweet Harmony With Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Do you want a free, zero-commission tip to keep in mind as a filmmaker? If you want one of the biggest corporations to shell out a huge amount of money for your movie, just make sure that you're using a recognisable product of theirs, such as GarageBand or Logic, throughout. Director, writer and co-composer John Carney's musical dramedy Flora And Son isn't afraid to play ball in that sense so you might know where to find it.
Eve Hewson stars as titular Flora, a scrappy mom in her early thirties living in Dublin with her (also) titular teenage son Max (Orén Kinlan). Struggling with Max's thieving habits and obnoxious behaviour, as well as his rather unhelpful dad Ian (Jack Reynor), Flora finds a new pleasant melody to her life with an old acoustic guitar she saves and a connection with her guitar teacher Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) from Los Angeles.
It might seem cheesy at first to use phrases that work as music puns when talking about the movie but it does genuinely find Flora having dissonance in her relationship with Max, lacking a steady rhythm in her life and wishing for a jamming partner that pushes her to be better. It also helps to think that the film itself is so cheesy that it's okay to use those ideas as a springboard before diving into what it is actually trying to achieve. Carney as a filmmaker still doesn't seem to be all that interested in subtlety or metaphors so you have to meet his work halfway in that regard, though he efficiently distracts you from those simpler moments sometimes with coarse humour that serves the cast and Irish-ness of it all well. Some experimental notes here and there are necessary to keep things exciting after all.
Whilst Carney's writing is the simple element, his direction is the one that experiments, often with mixed results. Hewson is ultimately the reason why the movie works as she arranges Flora with difficult past few years, great comedic riffing and timing, as well as a sense of aimlessness, but her scenes with Gordon-Levitt are when the it all truly sings, much thanks to slick and resourceful choices that Carney uses to break rules and reality. His and co-composer Gary Clark's music—featuring songs co-written by cast members—lays a foundation for more intimate moments to emerge and take shape, whether that's between Flora and Jeff's flirting or when Flora is discovering how Max can channel his teenage angst productively.
Not all of it works, of course, namely when middle-aged guys go full ''How do you do fellow kids or young women?'' in their approach here which is when scenes can be unintentionally cringeworthy or awkward when the intent is to go for sweet or humorous. Editor Stephen O'Connell manages to correct the pitch on some of those false notes occasionally (video calls can be dynamic when done right apparently) so thankfully most of it stays intact. The tunes sound a bit rough since Flora and co. are just in the beginning but with right expectations just being in the same key can be enough for finding some harmony.
Smileys: Eve Hewson, directing
Frowneys: Some issues with tone and story
It's a synth to steal, you know?