For Eve Hewson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Guitar Playing will have to do.
DIRECTED BY JOHN CARNEY/2023
Can a guitar turn things around? Well no, not when you throw it against the wall like that!
Meet Flora (Eve Hewson), a struggling thirty-something single mom in working class Dublin. Flora’s been making ends meet as a daytime nanny (babysitter) for a wealthy lady’s two small children. Lugging toddlers around and wiping butts in this manner ought to be beneath her at this phase of life, but here she is. Her husband (Jack Reynor) took off; her son, Max (Orén Kinlan), is a thieving delinquent with a criminal record at fourteen. Her own prospects for a brighter future are slim and none.
On a whim, she pulls an abandoned acoustic guitar out of a trash heap. This being a John Carney film (Once, Begin Again, Sing Street), it’s quickly understood that the path to whatever self-reconciliation that needs to happen for Flora involves with making music. Carney’s efforts as a writer/director are lousy with troubled Irish folks making their way as budding yet amazing talents with a guitar case slung over their shoulder. Will Flora prove to have the hidden talent of her cinematic forebearers? Even if she doesn’t, could this be the key to finding new love and connecting with Max?
Egads, this movie. Despite Eve Hewson’s dynamic lead turn as this rolling hot mess of a woman who completely lost her verbal filter years ago (very R-rated language abounds), Flora and Son doesn’t perform on the level of past Carney favorites. The bow that everything ends up wrapped in may be far from tidy, but the thin wrapping paper doesn’t exactly leave many elements to be surprised by.
Flora’s stumbling journey towards finding her musical groove, falling in love with her Los Angeles-based online guitar instructor, Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, making a noble go of it as the film’s warm blanket), and waking up to her son’s need for her advocacy isn’t 100% predictable, but who cares. When a ninety-seven-minute movie ends up crawling to its finish line the way that this one does, the project’s shortcomings transcend apt casting.
It’s worth reiterating that Ms. Hewson is, by a wide measure, the real story here. Otherwise, Flora and Son merely resonates as another John Carney movie on his shelf of John Carney movies that are really looking and sounding too much alike. This one is too much of poof to even bother hating. Thanks to Hewson and Gordon-Levitt, it has plenty of passable moments. (Although Carney’s device of him appearing to her in the flesh when in actuality they’re just really, really connecting with one another over Zoom is embarrassing). But it also has its share of shruggy dead ends. (The character of Max is a charisma vacuum).
Ordinarily it’s always kind of a shame when a movie is relegated to some streaming platform, but in the case of Flora and Son and its big fat benefactor/immediate final resting place, AppleTV+, it all feels of a piece. After all, if ever there was a movie to dial up on a lazy Sunday afternoon while you’re distracted by your other Apple products, this is it. Despite Flora’s aforementioned frustrated outburst, Flora and Son is no guitar-smasher.