“I’m glad you enjoyed my crazy Irish movie,” writer-director John Carney told a well wisher at a reception for his new feel-good film, “Flora and Son,” screened Thursday evening at the arty Whitby Hotel. The “Once” and “Sing Street” director was in a good mood following the enthusiastic audience reaction.
The Dublin saga stars Eve Hewson (Bono’s daughter), as Flora, a single mother trying to cope with a rebellious, loner 14 year-old son (Orén Kinlan), continually in trouble with the Garda (Irish police). There’s a surly ex-husband in the picture, (Jack Reynor, excellent in all Carney’s films) who has some music biz background and is shacked up with a hottie girlfriend, which doesn’t sit well with Flora.
After her day’s work as a babysitter in a posh neighborhood, Flora finds an acoustic guitar in the trash, has it restrung, and gives it to her son hoping he will take it up and reverse his delinquent ways. When he rejects it— he’s a rapper and tech wizard turns out— Flora decides to take lessons online and finds an instructor, Jeff (Joseph Gordon Levitt), a washed up but dreamy composer-guitarist based in LA. Their sessions blossom into a love affair of sorts, although they never meet in person.
As Showbiz411 mentioned in our favorable review, ‘Flora is an independent, wise Irish girl who curses, smokes, and drinks and has a healthy passion for men.” She also adores her son even though their verbal exchanges can be brutal.
Hewson is no nepo baby. She can act and has real screen presence. She also has a good voice and credibly plays guitar. I’ve been a fan since seeing her in “Bad Sisters,” before I learned about her famous father.
But Hewson didn’t immediately come to mind as Flora when he started casting said Carney during the Q&A, which included producer Anthony Bregman, and musical co-writer Gary Clark.
“She was relentless,” said Carney. “I didn’t know her well. I met her once when she was 15 through her dad. Then I heard she was an actor. She said she wanted to be an actor and then she was, and a few years later we saw her on screen. Then this thing came up and her agent said, ‘Well just Zoom with her.’ I was like, ‘She’s too poised and beautiful. I’ve seen her in Victorian things.’”
When he clicked on Zoom she appeared with a “smiley face’… “She’s like, ‘How are you getting on?’ It was this real immediate connection. She was in LA at the time, and we found ourselves, two Dubliners, chatting away. She was so funny. She basically said to me, “You’ve written a comedy. I’m really funny… Trust me.”
“I mean that’s actually, maybe it is just the face, but her attitude is right. She does not try to follow in her father’s footsteps in any way, except that she’s a bit of a rockstar. I mean that in all the best ways.”
She also didn’t mince words about the script. “She’s like, ‘That lines bollocks… But if we could change it to this, just please John’ … it was like she had met this character, you know what I mean?”
A terrific moment in the film is when Flora watches Joni Mitchell singing “Both Sides, Now” on YouTube. A tear rolls down her cheek. She realizes she’s watching genius. Carney wisely lets the whole song play out. This wasn’t the original plan.
“Sure, our budget’s infinite. The rights should be simple. Let’s please do that,” joked Bergman.
“We actually had something else that went on in that scene… There was a big visual effect that we had, which is basically she’s at the sink washing the dishes. If y’all remember, she’s upset, and then she turns around and there’s a shot of her listening to the song. Then as she’s listening to the song, she drops the dishes… before they hit the ground, they just stand in midair… But Eve’s performance is so strong that John decided she is the visual. That she’s the special effect.”
Added Bergman, speaking as a true producer, “We dropped the dishes. We got rid of that, and maybe use some of the money from the visual effects, paid for the Joni Mitchell (rights).”
In all Carney’s films, there is a catchy tune: “High Life” is an ear worm of a number performed in a pub at the end of the film by all the characters, led by Flora. Even Jeff in LA is zoomed in, laptop perched on a bar stool.
(“High Life” could get recognition awards season, like Carney’s song, “Falling Slowly,” from “Once,” best Oscar winning song in 2007. The movie became a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical.)
About “High Life,” said the director, “I structured the verse of that a little bit on my garage band files, still thinking about the melodies, and the guitar, and stuff like that, and threw it over to Gary.”
Carney said he wanted to end the Q&A with a “humble” anecdote.
“I got a phone call at the end of the movie, the one time that Bono ever crossed Eve and rang me, because don’t mess with Eve, don’t get Daddy to call up John, or none of that… He had seen the movie, and I’m sitting there, with headphones on and the phone rings. Sometimes, if you get a call from him, it’s a no caller ID, and that’s either Bono or an annoying person to ask you how your subscription is going.”
“I’m like on my headphones listening to a song, and I look at the phone and it’s like, ‘Who the fuck is that? No, I’m not listening to that man. Rings again, and I’m going to say, ‘Look, I’m not interested in you.’… ‘Hey, how’re you Bono, big Bono?’ He is like, ‘I just listened to the songs, and that chorus of ‘High Life.’… That’s as good as it gets,” said Carney, laughing. “Bono knows our music it seems.”
Photo c 2023 Wilson Morales