In a John Carney movie, music is ingrained into his DNA. The Irish film director takes the experience he had as a bassist for a rock band as well as his experience directing music videos and his own experience living in Ireland to craft stories, specifically music dramas. One of the critical elements of the musical drama is how it specifically becomes the bridge of connection between two characters who are somehow disconnected from the flow of life and are lost. Music is the one element that pulls them together. It helps that Carney uses a lot of original scores and songs that are mostly acoustic. It brings a feel-good vibe to the entire narrative, which might resemble a kitchen sink drama because Carney’s characters themselves are people belonging to the middle class.

But with Flora and Son, John Carney might have finally met his match. Now he has to reckon with the one genre of music that hasn’t been completely adapted into any of his narratives: electronic dance music (EDM).

The basic narrative is a simple one: Eve Hewson plays a working-class single mother, Flora, who found herself pregnant at a very young age and regretted it because it became an anchor to her life. When the movie opens, we find her dancing at the club and finally taking a guy home, who finally runs away in the morning upon learning that she has a son. She usually spends more time working with other kids as a nanny (and managing to swipe a bit more money along the way). Her relationship with her son is strained, and as a result, her son would be involved in petty misdemeanours, resulting in her being called to the Gardai. There she is finally encouraged to search for a hobby for Max, and after rescuing an old guitar from a moving truck and repairing it, she starts taking classes from a Los Angeles-based online guitar teacher. Now that your guitar teacher is played by Joseph Gordon Levitt and your protagonist is played by Hewson, it’s a matter of time before sparks fly.

Predictability is as much a part of a Carney joint as is sentimentalism. Thus, the mother-son relationship starts to be repaired because the mother learns about her son’s talent in creating EDM and rapping using Garage Band, and she does the same with her guitar lessons. It becomes a support system for the two of them, especially with Flora and her son combining their talents in a track and then sending that track to the girl that Max likes, as a method for the boy to finally get his crush. That reconnection is heartwarming, if a tad bit overwrought.

A similar case exists with Jeff and Flora’s relationship, where their connection is so strong that even a video call connecting these two souls thousands of miles apart is metaphorically removed by Flora imagining Jeff to be there in front of him every time their emotionally poignant interactions occur. The chemistry between Levitt and Hewson is sweet enough that the pace at which the movie rushes through building their chemistry can be ignored slightly.

And this slight ignorance will be the blessing that every viewer might require to watch this movie where sentimentalism trumps cynicism or even conflicts and stakes to a certain extent. This isn’t a bug but rather a feature, especially for a Carney joint, because Carney allows the music to carry through the emotions necessary to buoyantly move the plot forward.

But Gary Clark and John Carney’s score and original soundtrack here might be the weakest amongst his entire filmography. A theory that can be posited is that the use of EDM somehow manages to weaken the impact his calm and soothing music has on the audience. EDM isn’t a genre Carney is comfortable in, but because it is a genre in which the characters of the younger generation are more involved than the older generation, who are being disparaged or looked upon with suspicion, it becomes woven into the fabric of Flora and Son. It is perhaps not surprising that even if the relationship between Gordon-Levitt and Hewson is narratively rushed, I still remember that element fondly or even the songs sung by Jeff because that is the traditional country score, which Carney is more comfortable at, even to a certain degree I am at as well.

Flora and Son, though, definitely feels like an acquisition for a streaming service looking for a repeat performance at the Oscars in a similar manner to Coda. It feels like one of those movies that are enough of a crowd-pleaser that it excited and satisfied a festival audience and intrigued enough streamers to buy or bid for it. But amongst the filmography of John Carney, where music and emotions fit like hand and glove, Flora and Son feels the weakest of the lot. Perhaps it is not a surprise that this is also the movie with the most forgettable soundtrack.


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