1 of 5 | Eve Hewson and Orén Kinlan star in "Flora and Son." Photo courtesy of Apple TV+
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Flora and Son, in select theaters Friday and on Apple TV+ Sept. 29, is writer-director John Carney's fourth film about the power of music. Once, Begin Again and Sing Street are tough acts to follow, but Flora and Son shows he hasn't lost his touch.
Flora (Eve Hewson) is a single mother to 14-year-old Max (Orén Kinlan) in Ireland. Max is always in trouble and has a truant officer monitoring him.
One day, Flora takes a discarded guitar from a dumpster and has it repaired. She signs up for online guitar lessons, taught by Los Angeles instructor Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
Flora doesn't take the lessons seriously at first and causes Jeff to end Zoom sessions with some of her suggestive comments. But his philosophy about music intrigues her enough to apologize, continue and behave herself.
Carney ditches the computer screen by lesson 2, putting Jeff right in Flora's kitchen. A simple cinematic technique, it conveys the connection they find via the Internet, and crosses the distance in a way that's much easier in movies than in real life.
Music also gives Flora a way to connect with Max, learning his Garage Band software and helping him film a music video.
Creating music together creates intimacy, both with Jeff and with Max. It's not magic, though.
Jeff and Flora still live a challenging distance apart, and Max still steals, causing further legal issues with which Flora has to deal.
The original songs Flora sings are a bit more abrasive than those in Begin Again or Sing Street. She uses the F-word liberally.
Jeff's songs are a bit more clean. But, the Once songs were raw and emotional without using any profanity, so it's just applying Carney's style to lyrics that make sense for Flora.
Though the daughter of Bono, Hewson has never sung professionally but sings well. Bono was not involved with the film.
As a professional actor, Hewson clearly trained for the film, so she's not performing like a total amateur as Flora is. It's that movie magic of making Flora a believable character, but still performing well enough to release a movie soundtrack.
Gordon-Levitt has sung before and his Jeff sounds like someone who has practiced for enough years to perform well, even if he doesn't go professional.
Flora and Son is more intimate than Begin Again and Sing Street by design. It's about a mother and son, and the supporting characters in their lives, so it has more in common with Once.
Begin Again was about revolutionizing the music industry and Sing Street depicted the life-changing opportunities that come from playing in a high school band. So the stakes are lower in Flora and Son, but Carney still has a knack for showing how music can change lives in grand and minute ways.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.