Flora (Eve Hewson) is a single mother living in Dublin with her son Max (Orén Kinlan) and estranged from her partner Ian (Jack Reynor). Following her son's latest brush with the Gardai, Flora resolves to set him straight by taking up music - specifically the guitar. Though he shows no interest at first, Flora begins to take lessons online from an American tutor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and soon finds herself drawn to him and music in a way she's never been before...
'Flora and Son' could be easily dismissed as gimmicky marketing for Apple - there's a thread of the movie devoted to GarageBand, Apple's recording studio software, not to mention Flora doing her guitar lessons on a Macbook in various recognisable locales around Dublin. Equally, you can roll your eyes at some of the corny-as-hell dialogue from Joseph Gordon-Levitt when he describes the power of a chord or how deeply felt music can be when it's played just a little softer and with a little more feeling. Like much of his work, such as 'Begin Again' or 'Sing Street' or the Prime Video series 'Modern Love', Carney's work is buried in romantic notions about life and music that often seem ill at ease with some of the characters that populate his stories.
In this case, Eve Hewson's salty humour and frequent cursing breaks like a wave over Joseph Gordon-Levitt's slightly woo-woo characterisation of a guitar tutor. There are almost no real connections between them - she is a reluctant single mother living in inner-city Dublin, he's a guitar teacher in ridiculously pretty California - yet over the course of the movie, Flora and Jeff find themselves drawn to one another by finding the chords and the melodies. As her skill increases and as she goes deeper into their will-they-won't-they relationship, Hewson's character begins to recognise her on-screen son's talent and see his own romantic misadventures. The problem is that even if she's beginning to leave her own cynicism behind, you can still easily find ways to be cynical watching 'Flora and Son'.
As much as Hewson has a flair for earth comedy, she's able to carry off overly earnest lines with a real conviction that would sound hokey by anyone else. Carney's instinct to place her in almost every scene of the movie is the right one, as she's far and away the best thing about 'Flora and Son'. Equally, Orén Kinlan is a discovery in his first starring role, playing it less like a bratty teenager and more like a pissed-off flatmate. For Joseph Gordon-Levitt, there's a kind of airy-fairy quality to his character that almost borders on parody at certain points, but it's effective in terms of the story.
Overall, 'Flora and Son' may not be on par with the likes of Carney's most celebrated works, but it still has enough charm and presence from its cast to make it into something special.