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Music of the Heart: A TIFF Review of ‘Flora and Son’

September 12, 2023Ben MK

With movies like Once, Begin Again and Sing Street under his belt, writer-director John Carney has carved out quite the successful niche for himself. Nestled between the rom-com and musical genres, Carney's films are soulfully uplifting, achingly heartbreaking explorations of relationships that thoughtfully capture the universal human need for companionship. And with his newest movie, Flora and Son, the 51-year-old Irish filmmaker is again embracing his wheelhouse, in this endearing story about a long-distance romance and the bond between a mother and her son.

Set in Dublin, Ireland, the story follows Flora (Eve Hewson), a fed-up, 31-year-old single mom whose 14-year-old son, Max (Orén Kinlan), is a mere one offence away from being sent to a juvenile correctional facility. Estranged from her ex-musician husband, Ian (Jack Reynor), and at her wit's end concerning what to do about her delinquent son, Flora attempts to gift Max a used guitar as a belated birthday present. However, when Max — who's more of an electronic music fan — rejects the idea, Flora decides to take up learning the instrument herself. Signing up for online guitar lessons from a Los Angeles-based music teacher named Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), she soon finds herself falling head over heels for her instructor. But when Max is arrested yet again — this time, for stealing some expensive music equipment in an attempt to impress his crush at school — Flora must find a way to get through to her son, while at the same time putting some of her newfound musical skills to good use.

Suffice to say, if you adored Carney's previous films, then you'll have no trouble falling wholly in love with Flora and Son. Heartwarming, heartbreaking, and occasionally hilarious, it cuts to the core of what it means to be a singer-songwriter, while also asserting Hewson (who also happens to be the daughter of U2's Bono) as one of her generation's most engaging and talented actors. Above all else, though, it's the type of movie that's guaranteed to put a smile on viewers' faces. And that's something definitely worth feeling good about.

Flora and Son screens under the Gala Presentations programme at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 1 hr. 34 min.

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