February 2024

(Bleep)ing Lovely

Flora and Son, Ted Lasso

Miles David Moore


Apple TV+ has been taking full advantage of the linguistic freedom allowed to streaming services.  It premiered John Carney’s latest film, Flora and Son, not long after Ted Lasso, the series created by Jason Sudeikis, Brendan Hunt, Bill Lawrence and Joe Kelly, aired its thirty-fourth and final episode.  Both shows are filled with rough-and-ready, often reprehensible characters who never met a sentence they couldn’t stuff with obscenities.  And they are all (with very few exceptions) absolutely lovable.

Flora and Son doubles down on the grungy, working-class Dublin milieu of Carney’s Oscar-winning 2007 film, Once.  Flora (Eve Hewson) and her delinquent teenage son Max (Oren Kinlan) are constantly at each other’s throats.  Flora’s musician ex-husband Ian (Jack Reynor) is unreliable at best in helping to raise Max.  A local policeman tells Flora she needs to keep Max out of trouble, and suggests she find a hobby for him. 

Flora finds a broken guitar on the street, has it restrung, and gives it to Max.  Max—who likes only electronic music—rejects the gift, but Flora decides she’d like to learn to play it herself.  Scouring the Net for cheap instruction, she finally settles on Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a struggling Southern California songwriter who offers lessons online.

What follows is a story—like Once and Carney’s other previous film, Sing Street—about how music makes both life and people better.  Granted that Carney does not say music turns people into angels.  Max commits theft and calls his mother the c-word (she slaps his face and reminds him he wouldn’t exist without her c-word).  Flora herself thinks nothing of lifting money from her employer’s purse.  Her online relationship with Jeff is testy at first, and nearly ends before it begins when she suggests Jeff should teach her with his shirt off. 

But then Flora and Jeff start bonding.  She becomes confident on the guitar under his instruction; he plays her one of his songs, and she makes good suggestions on how to improve it.  Their conversations become friendly, then tender.  The six thousand miles separating them become nothing, as one scene on a Dublin rooftop—played exquisitely by Hewson and Gordon -Levitt—demonstrates.  It doesn’t hurt that they are both strong singers (no surprise in Hewson’s case; she’s Bono’s daughter).

Meanwhile, Max starts making his own music videos to impress a girl.  His misadventures continue, yet he and his mother gradually become closer through music.  Even the feckless Ian joins in the final act, in which all the major characters unite to form a truly unusual band.

In the end, Flora and Son is a heartwarming film—not precisely a musical, but a film whose characters are enhanced and deepened by the music they make.  As with Once, Carney knows just how far he can go with his story without making it soppy; he never forgets the people he’s dealing with.  Early on, when Flora asks Jeff an impertinent question, he pauses, then laughs.  “I forgot,” he said. “You’re Irish!”  Jeff is the only character in Flora and Son who isn’t flagrantly, defiantly Irish.  The film’s final line—shouted by an audience member at Flora and Max’s first public performance—leaves us in no doubt of that.

If Flora and Son is charming, Ted Lasso bowls us over with its lovability.  It feels like what Frank Capra would have made if he were alive today—and if he had consulted Martin Scorsese, David Mamet and Quentin Tarantino about dialogue.  There are web pages that tell you how many times major characters Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) and Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham) say “fuck” in every episode.  Most of the other characters are no slouch in the f-word department.

The title character, on the other hand, swears rarely and gently.  Ted Lasso (Sudeikis), a winning football coach at Wichita State, makes international sports headlines when Rebecca selects him as the new coach of the English soccer team she owns, the fictional AFC Richmond.  Rebecca has an ulterior motive in hiring Ted: she got the team in a divorce settlement with her ex-husband Rupert Mannion (Anthony Head), and she wants to run it into the ground as a way of humiliating him.  Hiring a coach who is utterly ignorant of soccer, she thinks, will do the trick.

Rebecca, however, is unprepared for the juggernaut of optimistic, folksy charm that is Ted Lasso.  A latter-day Will Rogers, Ted does everything from baking cookies to leading a guided tour of the London sewer system to win over Rebecca, the team and the fans.  Not that he has an easy time of it.  His first several games are disasters, and fans yell “Wanker!” when they see him on TV or in the street.  Then there are the things Ted doesn’t talk about: his frequent panic attacks and his ongoing sorrow over his divorce from Michelle (Andrea Anders) and separation from his son Henry (Gus Turner).

These issues are explored in full in succeeding episodes of Ted Lasso, as are the ongoing issues of all its characters.  These issues can be farcical, irksome, or tragic, depending on the character and the situation.  They can involve anything from the complications created by a no-photos online dating service, to the death of the team’s greyhound mascot, to the difficulty of using live lambs in a TV commercial.  (It’s the poop.)  What distinguishes all these events is that they reveal the vast majority of the characters—even the most rebarbative ones—to be as lovable as Ted himself.  Rebecca Welton and team executive Leslie Higgins (Jeremy Swift) at first come across as Cruella De Vil and Uriah Heep, but eventually reveal themselves to be Care Bears.  So do crusty team captain Roy Kent (his small niece bases her college fund on the money Roy is forced to add to her “Swear Jar”); Roy’s nemesis on the team, the cocky Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster); and even Nate Shelley (Nick Mohammed), equipment manager turned assistant coach, who commits what appears to be an unforgivable act of treachery at the end of Season Two.

Some Ted Lasso characters are delightful at first encounter.  One is Keeley Jones (Juno Temple), model, PR flack, aspiring influencer, and love interest first for Jamie, then Roy.  (She’s the one who learns the sad truth about lamb poop.)  Others include the teammates at AFC Richmond: thoughtful, idealistic Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh); ebullient Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernandez), who races around the field yelling, “Futbol is life!”; and Colin Hughes (Billy Harris), who feels he dare not reveal to his teammates that he’s gay.

Some characters resist easy definition.  Trent Crimm (James Lance), sportswriter for The Independent, begins as Ted’s inquisitor and ends as his chronicler.  Quirkiest of all is Willis “Coach” Beard (Hunt), Ted’s laconic second-in-command, who seems opaque at first but eventually reveals himself to be the show’s closest equivalent to Hunter Thompson.

Besides likability, these characters are distinguished by their victimization, mainly at the hands of tycoons who see professional sports as a toy.  Rupert Mannion, despite his surface charm, proves to be even worse than he seemed at first.  Edwin Akufo (Sam Richardson), a Ghanaian billionaire, is best described as a cross between Donald Trump and Idi Amin, and (for reasons I will not reveal here) devotes himself to making Sam’s existence a living hell.  Jack Danvers (Jodi Balfour), a masculine-named billionaire’s daughter, sets Keeley up in her own PR firm, but is only toying with her in more ways than one.

As in all good sports movies and Capra films, the characters in Ted Lasso need antagonists to show their mettle, their integrity, and their team spirit.  Ted Lasso is the exemplar of an ensemble comedy, in essence using a great cast as a metaphor for a great sports team.  Sudeikis & Co. make each AFC Richmond game an edge-of-your seat contest, but even more they ensure that each character is an integral part of the team.  As delightful a character as Ted is, he sometimes seems like the show’s McGuffin.  I finished the series believing that the true main character was Roy, but one could make the same argument for Rebecca, or Keeley, or Nate, or Jamie.  It all depends on who scored the latest goal.

My only complaint about the show is that the finale left me unsatisfied; I could have stayed with these characters for another thirty-four episodes at least.  But I was happy to spend time with these crazy, messed-up, endearing characters, f-bombs and all.  Ted Lasso had me eating, drinking, and sleeping AFC Richmond.  And I’m not even a soccer fan!


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Miles David Moore is a retired Washington, D.C. reporter for Crain Communications, the author of three books of poetry and Scene4’s Film Critic. For more of his reviews and articles, check the Archives.

©2024 Miles David Moore
©2024 Publication Scene4 Magazine



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