In recent years, the term “Nepo Baby” became part of the pop-culture lexicon, as talented actors started to see their children make names for themselves in Hollywood. “Nepo Babies” have been around for decades, be it Kate Hudson, Lily Collins, and the casting of Lily-Rose Depp in numerous projects. But the term typically carries a negative connotation, implying that the children of talented people aren’t gifted in their own right. Well, allow Eve Hewson to take a shotgun blast to that theory with her firecracker performance in the lead role of John Carney’s latest musical dramedy Flora and Son, playing the Toronto International Film Festival before it becomes available to those with an AppleTV+ subscription.
John Carney uses his films to explore, dissect, and capture the magic trick that is songwriting. Flora and Son doesn’t end the streak that Carney started in such winning masterpieces as Once, Sing Street, and Begin Again. We still find a storyteller fascinated by the act of creating music, by the backstory of every musical composition, and the ethereal effect music has on the artist, and the audience. He just finds a new doorway to the conversation with Flora and Son, and in the process, raises interesting conversations about emotional connectivity in the COVID age.
Single mother Flora (Eve Hewson) splits time raising her teenage son Max (Oren Kinlan) with her ex, Ian (Jack Reynor), with whom she’s still in love. Eager to strengthen a bond with a child she sees maturing into a grown – and possibly troubled – man, Flora picks up an acoustic guitar and commits to online lessons. Some of it is inspired by Max’s interest in club music. His emotions are masked by the headphones he wears, and he surprises his mom when he reveals compositions he has been tinkering on in his solitude.
But some of it is Flora just wanting a way to express herself. Flora and Son exists in a time frame where we all turned to our laptops for human interactions. Zoom calls. Google hangouts. And for Flora, guitar instructions from the handsome American YouTube teacher Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who charms her with philosophical discussions about the sheer power, and empowerment, of playing an instrument, and of writing a song.
Carney has done this countless times, using the act of songwriting as a character in his films. The apex mountain of Carney scenes built around flames of creativity remains Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova “spontaneously” composing the original song Falling Slowly in an Irish music store in Once. And though nothing comes quite as close to that whimsy in Flora and Son, the songbook is aided by both Gordon-Levitt and Hewson’s ability to soulfully sing from deep wells of emotion.
Hewson is the breakout star of Flora and Son. She’s an exploding Nova star of talent, charm, humor, heart and inspiration. And yes, because of her royal family background in the music industry, you can’t help but think about her father Bono’s own approach to crafting his many masterpieces, possibly on the same Dublin streets on which Carney filmed.
But a major lesson of Flora and Son is that music making on this level can (and should) happen anywhere. Though the movie makes songwriting, and the production of original music videos, much easier than it actually is, the movie’s use of computers encourages Flora to better herself (through guitar lessons), and better connect with her son. Her online lessons with Jeff are therapy during a time when we all need tangible empathy. Or, pull up the video of a song that moves you – the way that Flora loses herself in a Joni Mitchell track and allows herself to have a good cry. Flora and Son reminds us that we’ve earned that right to create, to sing, and to be human in the most basic ways possible.
Look for Flora and Son in select theaters on Sept. 22, then on AppleTV+ beginning on Sept, 29.