(L-R) Peter Cron, Anthony Bregman, Jack Reynor, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eve Hewson, Orén Kinlan, John Carney, Rebecca O’Flanagan, and Rob Walpole attend the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “Flora And Son” Premiere at The Ray Theatre in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)
By Stephanie Ornelas
Can two people really fall in love over a screen?
Director John Carney (Sing Street) explores this and other themes with his musical film Flora and Son, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 22 at The Ray Theater in Park City. The hilarious and heartwarming film captured the hearts of the audience members, who delivered a standing ovation at the end.
Eve Hewson plays Flora, a beautifully broken and outspoken single mother living in Dublin with a teenage son (Orén Kinlan) who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. In an attempt to bring him out of his delinquent habits, she refurbishes an old guitar she finds in a dumpster, thinking that if he picks up music, he’ll change his ways. But when her son brushes it off, showing no interest in the guitar she found, she decides to keep it — and instead finds herself.
“If I’m honest, I would have to say my mother,” Carney says when asked what inspired him to create the film during the post-premiere Q&A. He explains how he found himself wondering what to do during the pandemic while everyone was locked down.
“I thought maybe I would write a huge, big, epic action movie because I’d be really good at that,” he laughs. “Or will I write something that I know I can talk about as enthusiastically as I am now, two years later? So I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll dig deep and I’ll go into my own heart and try to write something small. And I thought about my relationship with my mother when I was a little fuck, even worse than him,” says Carney, pointing to Kinlan.
“I asked her to buy me a guitar because I fell in love with music, and she did. That was sort of the chief impetus to try and write something super personal that wouldn’t run out of meaning for me.”
When Flora starts taking virtual guitar lessons, she tries to flirt with her Los Angeles–based guitar coach, Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who at first is very reluctant. But as the two spend more time together, he starts to realize that he might need her more than he thought.
“[Carney] manages to ride this balance between bringing the magic that music can, and yet making it human and real and not ridiculous, and I begged him, I said, ‘Please let me be in your movie.’ I’m so grateful you let me be a part of this,” Gordon-Levitt says to Carney.
When it came to collaborating musically, Gordon-Levitt explains how Carney heavily involved the cast in the creation of the music. “We showed up, and I was like, ‘Cool, what’s the song?’ And he says, ‘Let’s talk about it.’ He showed up, and we all talked about it, and for the next eight hours, we wrote a song together. I’ve never had a filmmaker invite me into their process quite as intimately and spontaneously as John. But this is how he catches lightning in a bottle.”
And Hewson agrees, saying, “It all comes out of him like lightning. It was such an instinctive thing. I remember coming into the recording studio shitting myself, and John’s just sitting there with a guitar saying, ‘So, this is my process, and if we don’t come up with anything, we’re not going to shoot next week.’ In eight hours, we recorded a song and managed to get lunch,” she laughs.
Flora and Jeff develop an unexpected friendship that takes viewers on a fun adventure through Dublin and also touches on the new, virtual post-pandemic reality we are all living in now.
“I was trying to do something about the digital age, about this weird thing we’re doing with our kids and our loved ones with the screens and all of that. And I wanted to see how far I could push that. I think this movie is saying that this is a good way to use the internet — to fall in love and to have deep conversations.”