You already know the place you might be with John Carney — and the place you might be is a guitar store in a shabby Dublin again avenue. Ever for the reason that writer-director broke by with 2007’s buskers-in-love hit, “As soon as,” he has caught to small-scale, big-hearted romantic comedy-dramas about aspiring rock and pop musicians.
He has put sufficient diegetic songs in all of his movies for them to rely as musicals. And he has restricted himself to untouristy elements of Dublin — more often than not, anyway. “Start Once more,” starring Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, took him to New York, however he was again in Eire for “Sing Avenue” in 2016, and he returns as soon as once more for the likable “Flora and Son.”
The title however, his new yarn isn’t actually about Flora and her son, however about Flora and everybody in her life. Performed by Eve Hewson (“The Knick”), Flora stomps by Dublin with a excessive ponytail and a low-cut high. She dropped out of college at 17 to have a child as a result of she didn’t need an abortion — or to “get the boat to London”, as her buddy places it — and he or she now shares a dimly lit council flat along with her sullen 14-year-old, Max (Orén Kinlan), who’s one shoplifting cost away from a custodial sentence.
Neither of them goes wherever quick. Flora works as a borderline-negligent child-minder and pinches cash from her rich employers’ purses on her manner out the door. However most of this cash is spent in the identical noisy membership, the place she drinks a lot that, when a lech in a go well with sidles up and growls, “Gonna be using you later,” his prediction seems to be correct.
It was a daring transfer of Carney to solid Bono’s daughter in a job that ought to in all probability have gone to somebody with extra expertise of Flora’s straitened circumstances, however Hewson — who lately joked about being a “nepo child” — has the profitable stability of earthy ferocity and goofy vulnerability to make a terrific character her personal. Her face set in a contemptuous glower, she has a ball with Carney’s spiky dialogue, whether or not she is exchanging bracingly filthy insults along with her ex-husband Ian (Jack Reynor), or confessing to a buddy that she will’t assist however envy the dad and mom of kids who go lacking.
However Flora isn’t fairly the indomitable power of nature she seems to be. “This could’t be my narrative,” she complains to the identical buddy (the screenplay may be hilariously impolite and painfully clunky throughout the identical scene). And certain sufficient, her narrative shifts when she finds an acoustic guitar on a skip and offers it to her son as a birthday current — the day after his birthday.
After Max treats this reward with the contempt it deserves, Flora decides she’ll study to play it herself. Ignoring the sneers of Ian, a bassist who gave up his rock-and-roll goals when he turned a father or mother, she makes the inexplicable choice to shell out $20 an hour on on-line classes with a beardy, plaid-shirted Californian dude named Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
She additionally makes the inexplicable choice to stay with the teachings, though Jeff is much less focused on truly instructing her to play the guitar than he’s in mansplaining the variations between the songwriting of James Blunt and Hoagy Carmichael. His patronizing sermons verge on being insufferable, however he’s a delicate, crinkle-eyed hunk, and Gordon-Levitt radiates waves of easy-going allure. Perhaps Flora’s choice to pursue their classes isn’t so inexplicable, in any case.
Their transatlantic chats are somewhat too near these had by Ethan Hawke’s American singer-songwriter and Rose Byrne’s English seaside museum curator in 2018’s “Juliet, Bare,” a romantic comedy tailored from a Nick Hornby novel. However Carney provides the pleasing fantasy component of getting Flora’s laptop vanish, in her creativeness, in order that Jeff seems to be sitting within the kitchen subsequent to her. A few classes in, he’s asking her what she desires from music and he or she is telling him in no unsure phrases how one can enhance his songs. As they workshop melodies and lyrics collectively, the movie turns into, on one degree, an unofficial advert for Gordon-Levitt’s personal on-line collaboration platform, HitRecord. However, in fact, the potential of one other, extra intimate sort of collaboration is all the time within the air.
It’s well-nigh unimaginable to withstand Carney’s optimism and sincerity as he reminds us, as soon as once more, that music is life — even when the songs themselves, written by Carney and Gary Clark, don’t attain James Blunt’s degree, not to mention Hoagy Carmichael’s. However “Flora and Son” feels extra like a scrappy demo tape than a refined album. The sentimental romance with an American dreamboat doesn’t fairly match with the sharp-tongued city grittiness in different scenes; it isn’t simple to make a mash-up of Nick Hornby and Shane Meadows.
There are additionally sufficient underused characters, underdeveloped relationships and unfinished storylines to recommend that Carney wished to compensate for the seven-year hole between “Sing Avenue” and “Flora and Son” by squeezing two or three movies into one. In addition to sketching Flora’s flirtation with Jeff, he covers her lingering want for Ian, her resentment of her old fashioned pals, Max’s legal tendencies, Max’s efforts to impress a woman by mixing his personal hip-hop tracks, Max’s unconvincing willingness to report a music along with his mom (therefore the title), and many extra in addition to — all in 94 minutes.
If solely Carney had both added 20 minutes or taken away two subplots. His movie is a rollicking ode to working-class defiance and the enjoyment of choosing up a musical instrument. However there’s a effective line between leaving some tales tantalizingly open-ended and stumbling by all of them in a rush. By the point “Flora and Son” will get to its over-stuffed remaining scene, it has jumped the mistaken manner over that line.
“Flora and Son” makes its world premiere on the 2023 Sundance Movie Pageant.