By Jake Coyle | Associated Press
John Carney, the Irish filmmaker of “Once”, “Sing Street” and “Begin Again”, is directing the film version of “Three Agreements and the Truth”.
His films, unapologetically earnest feel-good films for cynical times, are lo-fi musicals that tell simple, charming stories. There are usually love interests. But eternal romance is for music. His films are the kind that would be easier to call “sentimental” if his central belief – in the redemptive power of music – weren’t a little true.
The song remains much the same in Carney’s latest charmer, “Flora and Son,” starring Eve Hewson as a working-class single mother from Dublin who takes guitar lessons. Flora’s first instinct, when she retrieves a worn acoustic guitar from a dumpster, is to give it to her troubled 14-year-old son, Max (Orén Kinlan), as a belated birthday present. Max, however, is baffled.
“You expect me to turn into Ed (expletive) Sheeran? ” he says.
Their life together in a small apartment is far from harmonious. Their interactions are caustic and cruel. Flora, who we first meet dancing at a nightclub and returning home with a man she immediately regrets, is not shy about expressing her disinterest in parenthood. Max, meanwhile, is about to be kicked out of school.
These are problems that perhaps require more than a six-string to solve. But Carney, who wrote and directed the film, has a knack for not hitting the cornball notes too hard and mixing in enough humor to keep the saccharine tones from taking over.
Reflecting on her sad situation, Flora finds a new resolve. “This can’t be my story,” she says, like a good protagonist. “This can’t be my story.” She browses YouTube for guitar lessons before settling on Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a laid-back instructor from Southern California who immediately attracts her.
Their Zoom lessons are intimate; Carney sometimes heightens the effect by carrying Jeff into Flora’s kitchen. They talk about James Blunt and Joni Mitchell. Jeff shares one of his own songs, which Flora critiques bluntly and then helps form a cute duet. (Carney and Gary Clark wrote the film’s songs.) Outside of the frame, their interactions have a certain irony. Bono’s daughter Hewson was probably born with chops.
The film continues with the satisfying structure of a song: verse, chorus, bridge. Flora’s ex-husband, Ian (Jack Reynor), doubts her commitment. But Flora proves adept at her new hobby, which fosters a new connection with her son.
Hewson stood out in the TV series “The Knick” and “Bad Sisters,” but she can be verifiably called a movie star after “Flora and Son.” His character isn’t miles off those we’ve seen time and time again, but Hewson’s confident and charismatic performance has enough spunk and grit to light up the screen. Nepo baby or not, he’s a total star.
“Flora and Son,” like the B-side to Carney’s previous hits, may sound a bit like a song you’ve heard before. But it’s sung with enough heart to make even the coldest cynic hum.
“Flora and Son”
3 stars out of 4
Rating: R (for language throughout, sexual references and brief drug use)
Schedules : 97 minutes