They say the era of film stars is fading. If so, there are many reasons why, but it’s funny how movie stardom works. It can fade…until you see star quality radiating from it. Suddenly, his stardom seems more than a hope — it feels inevitable. That’s what I thought of Eve Hewson after seeing her in “Flora and Son,” the latest spiky wistful Dublin pop-rock bauble from writer-director John Carney (“Once,” “Spring Street”).
Hewson, on “Bad Sisters,” plays the type of character we’ve seen many times before: a snarky, dissolute single mother swimming in trouble, mostly of her own making, as she tries to be a responsible parent and a party girl at the same time. girl Hewson’s Flora is an Irish whippersnapper with a 14-year-old delinquent boy (Oren Kinlan) she does nothing but fight with, a sexy musician lunk whose soon-to-be ex-husband (Jack Raynor) she does nothing but trash. And a taste for raucous dance-club nights that usually involve her hooking up with someone she doesn’t want to see in the morning. The film opens in one of those clubs, and the moment that first drew me to Hewson’s magnetism is when he’s dancing with the bloke who told him earlier in the evening, “I’m gonna ride you tonight,” and he shoves him away like a gnat, but now that That’s the only possibility left. He decides to see her with such shameless drunken lust (mixed with loathing, perhaps at himself) that you can’t look away.
Flora, who works as a nanny, does not know her own worth and mostly blames the world for her problems. Hewson digs into her self-righteousness, makes it fat and sassy and funny as hell, but also plays by showing you the sane woman under the blinders. Her Flora is angry and tender, sharp-edged and easily wounded, a slovenly mess and a whip-smart dynamo. Reprimanding her defeated ex, she turns on the uncomfortable seduction, because she wants him to remember what she’s lost. But Hewson, who has her father’s eyes (her father is Bono), not to mention the most radiant girl-next-door smile because I don’t know who, can’t seem to stay angry for long by nature. There’s a lot more going on in him. In “Flora and Son” he romanticizes the drama of Flora’s mood swings. What a movie star does.
John Carney, in a sense, invented his own kind of musical instrument. The form is lo-fi (the characters play their own instruments), the situations are the bitter melancholy of a good ’90s Miramax movie, and the songs sit somewhere on the spectrum between indie emo sincerity and Loggins and Messina nostalgia. If you’re the kind of person who cringes at a soft-rock reference, Carney’s movies may not be for you. But they are for many other people (like me) who miss the melodic sincerity of the pop era’s past. “Fanny and Son,” Carney’s first movie in seven years, is his easiest since “Once” (which was a magically simple movie) and his best since “Once.” It’s catchy and touching, it weaves music into the story with an spontaneity that can leave you laughing with joy, and it navigates an honest path from despair to faith, which is Carney’s disarmingly sweet calling card.
As a 17-year-old trying to mend fences with her son (which explains a lot, so the film doesn’t have to explain it), Flora fishes a beat-up guitar out of a junk truck, repairs it, and sticks a bow on it. gives and gives it to Max as a gift. He couldn’t be less interested, but not if he doesn’t like music. He simply lives in the 21st century, where the idea of being a pop musician is making dance tracks on his computer, which he excels at. They sound like the Pet Shop Boys with an overlay of white-boy rap.
Instead of throwing away the guitar, Flora thinks she’ll give herself a guitar lesson. Endless guitar-lesson sites on YouTube, most of which are completely unlikable, happen upon Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a dude with medium-length hair and a beard, who sits in his studio in Los Angeles, his window overlooking a sunlit canyon with eucalyptus breezes. giving Gordon-Levitt, who seems to be channeling Keanu Reeves and a young Kris Kristofferson, plays her like a relic from the ’70s — sweet and hot, with a bewitching list of singer-songwriter chords. One look at this smiling hippie troubadour and Flora thinks she’s in love.
He charges $20 an hour for a Zoom lesson, and the first thing he wants to learn to play is James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful.” But Jeff, who is a rock purist-snob in his ways, believes that a great song has to be less universal and more specific. (He’s wrong about that, but whatever.) Teaching Flora how to make chords, he’s like an easy-listening therapist, and the two are playing and singing together, and he suddenly pops out of the computer and right there. Lives with him. On her, or next to her on a terrace or in a park, it seems as natural as pie, something like “once”. Call it “twice”.
Jeff isn’t really with her. He just feels like he is. But their three-chord camaraderie, with a gentle undercurrent of romance, begins to lift Flora out of her discontent. He sends her a clip of a young Joni Mitchell, singing “Both Sides Now.” He watches it, tears rolling down his cheeks, and Hewson is so good you could almost swear the tears are giving a performance. It’s all part of Flora’s musical instrument.
“Flora & Son” is small in stature, overwhelming and overwhelming in its pop sincerity Flora and Jeff write a song together – or, actually, he takes her song, which never sells for him, and improves it with a new chorus. Don’t be surprised to hear that Flora and her newfound skills, Max and his dance tracks, and Ex, with whom Flora repairs fences in the base, form a band. I have one problem with “Flora and Son”: the whole movie seems to be heading toward a romantic catharsis that never arrives. The same thing worked brilliantly in “Once”. Here, a somewhat more conventional situation makes us yearn for a more conventional resolution. Of course, the title tells you why — it really is a love story about a mother rediscovering her connection with her child. And the song performance is mesmerizing enough to carry the day. “Flora and Son” has a quality that has always brought life to musicals, but has now gone out of style. You can call it innocence.