Over the years, John Carney has found many treasures in the dumpsters of Dublin, among them the idea that would inspire his new film, "Flora and Son."
After fishing out a guitar amplifier that, to his surprise, worked fine, he imagined the neck of a guitar sticking out of the rubbish like Excalibur. Who would pull it out? Carney's mind began tripping across the ideas that would become a story of a single mother connecting with her delinquent son though music.
Having premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, "Flora and Son" opens in theaters this week before launching on Apple TV+ on Sept. 29. The picture continues Carney's series of music-themed films he has specialized in since 2007's "Once," a romance about two struggling musicians that won an Oscar for the song "Falling Slowly." Since then, Carney has also made 2013's "Begin Again," starring Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo and set in the New York City record industry, and 2016's "Sing Street," about Dublin teens forming a band in the 1980s.
In "Flora and Son," the title character (Eve Hewson of "Bad Sisters") gifts that dumpster guitar to her troubled kid, Max (Orén Kinlan), but he doesn't want it, as he's more interested in making hip-hop on his laptop. So she begins taking guitar lessons herself, from an online teacher, Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), based in Los Angeles. Eventually, Flora and Max find a way to connect across their disparate musical tastes.
When the movie played the recent Toronto International Film Festival, Carney brought out a guitar during his post-screening Q&A and with his co-songwriter Gary Clark, induced the audience into a sing-along of "Meet in the Middle," one of the tunes written during the course of the picture's plot.
Sitting for an interview during the festival, Carney explained that one of his goals for the movie was that it remain a modest, human-scaled story about attainable, everyday goals.
"I really didn't want to make 'Flora from the flats finds a guitar and ends up conquering the world with her amazing music,' " said the director. "I just wanted to make a story that was plausible and realistic. I'd love it to be marketed in that way as well, so it doesn't seem like we're overselling: This movie's going to change your life."
Q: There's something really funny and exciting that the title is almost like a spoiler. For a lot of the movie, it seems like it's about to become this romance between Flora and her guitar teacher, and then it turns out the most important relationship really is between Flora and her son.
A: At the beginning of this process, I was like, 'Can I get away with another light musical with people singing and falling in love?' And then I was like, maybe they're not falling in love. Can I bring that sense of possibility and collaboration to a more grown-up, non-romantic story? Because boy meets girl, whether it's on Zoom or whether it's Glen and Marketa [of "Once"] in Dublin, or Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley, boy meets girl is pretty straightforward. And I feel like as a filmmaker, I need to push myself a little bit further, but I do like working in that musical sort of whimsy.
Q: Do you consider these movies musicals?
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