Combustible Celluloid Review - Flora and Son (2023), John Carney, John Carney, Eve Hewson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Orén Kinlan, Jack Reynor, Sophie Vavasseur, Kelly Thornton
Combustible Celluloid
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With: Eve Hewson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Orén Kinlan, Jack Reynor, Sophie Vavasseur, Kelly Thornton
Written by: John Carney
Directed by: John Carney
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, sexual references and brief drug use
Running Time: 97
Date: 09/22/2023

Flora and Son (2023)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Care Guitar

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

John Carney is shaping up as something of a minor auteur, cornering the market on movies that have the lift of old-time feel-good musicals, but are grounded in working-class Ireland, a real world in which not everything translates to a hit song or a happy ending. His new Flora and Son — which opens in theaters on September 22 and will drop on Apple TV+ on September 29 — is of a piece with his previous films Once, Begin Again, and Sing Street. It may not break any new ground, and it may not even be terribly memorable, but it feels like a cheerful tonic.

The delightful Eve Hewson plays Flora, a single mom who uses her lived-in sex appeal to boost her sagging self-esteem. She's stuck with a terror of a teen, the sullen Max (Orén Kinlan), a rude, foul-mouthed thief. Max's dad, Ian (Jack Reynor), lives apart from them, and fancies himself a rock star. (His band once shared a bill with Snow Patrol.) With Max one step away from being locked up, Flora finds a discarded guitar, pays to have it restored, and offers it to Max. Max doesn't care for the gift, so Flora finds herself picking it up. She goes online to find guitar lessons and settles on the American teacher Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), at first because she likes the looks of him, but later it turns out they have quite a rapport. Jeff is a disillusioned songwriter, but Flora inspires him and even offers improvements on one of his original compositions.

In a typical movie, this song would become a huge hit and carry everyone involved out of the doldrums and into glittering mansions, while Flora and Jeff whisk each other off their feet into a passionate happily-ever-after. But Flora and Son has a more modest goal. It simply wants to find a place, a plateau, where everyone can pause and look around and realize that maybe things are OK for once, for a little while. Getting to this place, Carney's filmmaking is effortless, moving like the beat of a song, telling its story, if not so much with depth, then with plenty of grit and humor and love.

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