Photo Courtesy of TIFF.

#TIFF23: “Flora and Son” is a Meditation on Family and the Power of Music

Editor’s Note: This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labour of the actors and other creatives involved in the project(s) mentioned here, Pages and Pictures would not exist. Pages and Pictures stands firmly behind SAG-AFTRA members as they fight for fair labour conditions. 

Flora and Son is an endearing tribute to the ties that bind us all and the power of music to change lives. After premiering at Sundance, the movie made its way to the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. From John Carney, the director of Sing Street and Once, this movie continues the exploration of the impact of music. The stories and characters here illustrate the necessity of art in everyone’s lives. 

Immediately, Flora (Eve Hewson) is a compelling protagonist to follow. What makes her story so endearing to follow is the fact that she is allowed to be fully human, flaws and all. Her flaws are what make her so easy to cheer for. Watching her try her very best to make the best of what life has given her reads as incredibly authentic. Her journey to re-evaluate her place in her own world is a relatable one. 

Flora’s son, Max (Orén Kinlan), may be a character of few words, but he makes no less of an impact. There’s an innate sweetness in this character that emerges as he’s given the tools to come out of his shell. He is evidently a character who is just looking to be loved by anyone around him. Thankfully, his mother, in particular, is able to see this as she goes on her own healing journey. 

With these two characters in particular, Flora and Son also illustrates the complexities that exist within familial relationships. There is something breathtakingly powerful about taking such a dysfunctional family and giving them a path to redemption. This could have so easily become a tragic story of a family falling through the cracks. Instead, this radical hope carries the characters through and gives them something to change for.

Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the picture-perfect outsider who provides a much-needed perspective shift for Flora in particular. There’s an alternate universe where this character could have carried a movie of his own. However, he’s perfectly placed here to act as a kind of guide to Flora and their family as they engage in their own respective healing. The fact that he never once overshadows Flora and Max is a testament to the strength of his character. 

Finally, it has to be said that the music itself of this story is enthralling. It’s a reminder that everyone anywhere can engage with the power of music. Apple must have some kind of deal with Joni Mitchell’s people (Both Sides Now really is a bop, though). This shows the story’s care and attention to curating a list of songs and artists that inspire this fictional musical journey. Each song adds a layer to the characters themselves. The music is a venue to further explore each character in a unique way. 

Flora and Son is a charming story about a family who’s easy to love in spite of all of their imperfections. It’s a moving tribute to the power of art and how music can change lives. This is a simple story that has so much to love. Each of these characters is worth spending time with for a heartwarming journey that is sure to leave a smile on any viewer’s face. 

Flora and Son is available to stream now on Apple TV+.

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