‘Flora and Son’: Eve Hewson Impresses as a Working-Class Mom Who Finds Solace in Music
Writer-director John Carney, best known for “Once” and “Sing Street,” continues to use music to explore the lives of the Irish working-class in his latest feature, “Flora and Son.” Eve Hewson stars as the titular Flora, a downtrodden Dublin woman who turns to music as a way to bond with her troubled teenage son, Max (Orén Kinlan). After Max rejects her belated birthday gift of an acoustic guitar that she pulled out of the trash and had fixed up, she decides to learn the instrument herself with help from a long-distance instructor, handsome and patient American Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
Flora, who had Max when she was only 17, works as a nanny, and she still enjoys clubbing, heavy drinking, and casual sex. While it is obvious that she loves her son, she seems to have given up when it comes to trying to keep him in line. He’s already had a few brushes with the law and is considered to be an at-risk youth. His father, Flora’s ex-husband Ian (Jack Reynor), who himself once had a promising music career, is not much better when it comes to being a role model.
Flora, who is admittedly very angry, decides to take up the guitar as an outlet, and is intrigued by Jeff after finding a video of him on YouTube. She signs up for lessons with him via Zoom, but he abruptly ends the first session early after Flora sexually harasses him. She apologizes, they start over, and a mutual respect between the two develops that eventually turns into something deeper. Jeff comes off as the opposite of Ian, as while he is also a failed musician, he has learned to channel his disappointments into something positive as opposed to soothing himself with sex and weed. The relationship is shown through Flora’s POV, and as it is not super interesting to watch someone talk to a screen for long stretches, she comes to imagine him as if he were right there with her in her apartment, on the roof, at the park, etc.
Meanwhile, Max is honing his own musical gifts through the use of his computer, composing catchy electronic music. Flora takes an interest in his work, leading to her filming his first music video on her phone. Their both getting into music at the same time allows the pair to bond in a way that feels authentic and not forced or cheesy. Flora’s musical journey even leads to her putting aside her (mostly) righteous anger towards Ian and working to improve their co-parenting relationship.
As sweet as the relationship between Flora and Jeff is to watch unfold, it is mostly a fantasy, and Carney wisely recognizes this in the third act, when Flora is faced with some tough choices. The real heart of the film is her relationship with Max, and Carney does a solid job of finding a balance. She was never mother of the year, and while the filmmaker is not overly punitive to her, he is not exactly willing to give her a traditional happy ending either.
When it comes to the actual musical numbers, they are charming enough, but none of them stick with the viewer afterwards in the way “Falling Slowly” from “Once,” or “Up” from “Sing Street” did. Instead, they will walk away most impressed by Hewson’s performance. The media has a tendency to get hung up on the fact that she is the daughter of U2’s Bono, but she is more than convincing as this angsty mom who has really been through it. She really brings it in the more emotional scenes, but can also be playful and scandalous.
“Flora and Son” releases Sept. 22 in select theaters, and begins streaming Sept. 29 on Apple TV+