Review: ‘Once’ filmmaker John Carney delivers new music flick ‘Flora and Son’ on Apple TV+

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'Flora and Son' (Part 1)

He wrote and directed such beloved movies as “Once” (2007), “Begin Again” (2013) and “Sing Street” (2016).

Now, one of our most accessible auteur filmmakers, John Carney, delivers his latest music flick “Flora and Son,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival before making its streaming premiere on Apple TV+ on Friday.

Set in modern Dublin, Ireland, the film follows Flora, a single mom struggling to raise her teenage son, Max, a petty thief on the cusp of juvenile detention. While desperately searching for a hobby to inspire Max, Flora rescues a beat-up guitar from a dumpster and finds that one person’s trash can be a family’s unique salvation.

As the daughter of U2’s Bono, one of the biggest rock stars on the planet, it’s no surprise that Eve Hewson can carry a tune, but you might be surprised that she can carry an entire movie. Until now, we’ve mostly seen her in supporting film roles as Tom Hanks’ daughter in Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” (2015) or TV series like “The Knick” (2014) on Cinemax, “Behind Her Eyes” (2021) on Netflix, and “Bad Sisters” (2022) on Apple TV+.

In “Flora and Son,” we watch her effectively transform an unlikable character into a likable one over 97 minutes. Flora is rather off-putting at first, ignoring her neglected son (Orén Kinlan) to go party at the club, drink her face off and sleep with random dudes. Even after discovering the guitar, she acts aggressively flirty toward her remote guitar teacher Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who teaches virtually from L.A. and declines her pushy, alcoholic advances.

Such flawed anti-heroes have become super trendy, from the TV series “Fleabag” (2016-2019) to the foreign flick “The Worst Person in the World” (2021). That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just a bit surprising for Carney’s brand considering Keira Knightley was the innocent hero swapping pop playlists with Mark Ruffalo in “Begin Again” to mend her heart from her cocky ex-boyfriend, played by Adam Levine.

If you stick with it though, you’ll realize that Flora’s character arc is a “Cat’s in the Cradle” tale about learning to put her son first, forming a mother-son bond that is quite touching. Even if it’s his raunchiest film, Carney fans will recognize his calling card of a hero overcoming a selfish ex (Jack Reynor of “Midsommar,” “The Peripheral”) with the help of a musician (Jeff wows Flora with Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” previously in Apple’s “CODA”).

Best of all, we get new original songs just as “Once” gave us the Oscar-winning tune “Falling Slowly” by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová; “Begin Again” gave us the Oscar-nominated song “Lost Stars” by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois; and “Sing Street” gave us the Critics’ Choice nominee “Drive It Like You Stole It” by Gary Clark. Clark reunites with Carney here to pen “High Life,” a catchy tune that will leave you humming as the credits roll.

When the colorful final title card “FLORA AND SON” flashes up onto the screen, it almost comes as a surprise because we’ve become so swept up in the story, caring about the lives of these characters and admiring their underdog spirit of creating music on their home recording, editing and mixing devices. Ultimately, that’s the biggest compliment one can give a film: to say that it flies by. Why’s that? Because it means it’s working.

4 stars

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'Flora and Son' (Part 2)

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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