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TIFF Review: ‘Flora and Son’ is Another Charming Winner from John Carney

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At this point, you know what to expect walking into a John Carney film. That’s not a criticism, either, as the filmmaker is wildly consistent. He has a bright view of the world, has impeccable musical tastes, and ends his movies in a way that leaves you with a song in your heart. That’s all true once again here with Flora and Son. Making this stop at the Toronto International Film Festival before hitting Apple, it’s an early favorite of the festival for me.

Flora and Son delighted me to no end. It’s funny, emotional, full of solid music, and leaves you with a smile on your face. Whether in a festival environment like here at TIFF or in general, what more can you ask for? Movies like this are rare gems and deserve to be treated as such. Honestly, I never wanted this film to end.

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Flora (Eve Hewson) is a single mother, struggling to connect with her son Max (Orén Kinlan) while attempting some semblance of a social life. She’s a heavy drinker, while he gets into trouble too often. Needing to find him a hobby or risk jail time for Max, Flora comes across a guitar in the dumpster. Presenting it to him, he’s dismissive of it, prompting her to, in spite, seek out lessons on her own. That decision will end up changing the family forever.

With Max off with his dad Ian (Jack Reynor), whom Flora has a tense relationship with, being her ex and all, she ends up signing up for lessons with Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) over the internet. It’s touch and go at first, but a bond begins to form, where the two are talking about life as much as music. At the same time, Flora’s burgeoning guitar skills not only thaw things a bit with former rocker Ian, but connect her with Max, who has more computerized musical interests. It’s all very crowd pleasing and nice, even if it takes a few turns you won’t see coming.

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Eve Hewson is terrific here, while Joseph Gordon-Levitt is perfectly utilized. The pair have great chemistry, with Carney deploying JGL just the right amount. Hewson is the star and it’s a real breakthrough performance. Her hardness and cleverness mix with her good heart, making Flora someone to really root for. Orén Kinlan, on the other hand, is a bit grating, but the character is written to be rough around the edges. In addition to Jack Reynor, the case includes small parts for Amy Huberman, Aislín McGuckin, and more.

John Carney continues with what’s been working for him, both as a writer and a director. The only switch here is that there’s one random line that’s extraordinarily dirty, compared to the rest of the flick. It’s not a bad thing and works in the film’s context, but it’s a bit jarring for him. In some ways, this is his Cameron Crowe picture, a filmmaker he’s always seemed a kindred spirit to. Carney is perpetually underrated, so hopefully that changes with this one.

Flora and Son is a real TIFF pleasure to behold. Small in scale but big in emotions and enjoyment, I absolutely adored this film. At the moment, it’s not just one of the best movies of the fest, but one of my picks for the best of the year, overall. High praise? Of course. Is it merited praise as well? Most certainly. Don’t miss this one!

SCORE: ★★★1/2


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Cristian Barros
17 days ago

I’m so excited for this movie. John Carney has yet to miss for me. ONCE, BEGIN AGAIN, and SING STREET are all terrific movies. The way he infuses music into all of his movies is always a memorable experience. I have my calendar marked for this one.



Written by Joey Magidson

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