Zu is newly sober when she receives news that she is to become the sole guardian of her half-sister named Music, a young girl on the autism spectrum. The film explores two of Sia’s favorite themes: finding your voice and creating family.
‘Music’ is the debut feature film from Australian musician Sia, and is perhaps as fine an example of how talent in one aspect of the arts doesn’t necessarily transfer to others. This is a bad movie, cringeworthy in the extreme, and verging on offensive in its portrayal of autism through one of its central characters. It is essentially a series of discarded Sia music videos, with a movie plot cobbled together around it, with the conceit to explain this being that the music interludes are how the character ‘Music’ (yes this film has bad character names too) experiences the world through her autism.
The plot centres around two sisters, one of whom is on probation for dealing drugs, and the other who has severe autism. They are Zu (Kate Hudson), and Music (Maddie Ziegler), and Zu finds herself having to look after Music after the death of their grandmother, with a little support from a friendly neighbour called Ebo (Leslie Odom Jr.). There is so much that doesn’t work about ‘Music’ but it’s hard not to start with Ziegler’s portrayal of a character with severe autism – to avoid saying something far worse, I’ll merely say it is badly misjudged. Portrayals of disability on screen can be challenging for a number of reasons that I don’t need or wish to get into, but there have been nuanced performances over the year (I’ll cite Di Caprio in ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?’ as a personal favourite), but this is on the opposite end of the scale. Hudson and Odom Jr. are relatively good but they’re stranded in a bad movie, and there’s some interesting direction and stylistic flourishes in the musical numbers – not enough to save the movie, but enough to not drive the audience to boredom.
In an interview about the film, Sia stated that one of her reasons for directing a movie was because of the good experiences she’s had directing music videos, and she wouldn’t be the first person to make that transition. The problem with ‘Music’ is that all of Sia’s focus appears to have gone on the bits that are basically music videos, and not on the bits that drive whether this works as a movie or not, and I have limited interest in watching a movie’s worth of subpar Sia music videos. ‘Music’ is a misguided movie with one of the worst performances I’ve seen in some time, and on this evidence, Sia should stick to making music.
Directed By: Sia
Starring: Kate Hudson, Maddie Ziegler, Leslie Odom Jr., Hector Elizondo, Mary Kay Place, Brandon Soo Hoo, Tig Notaro, Ben Schwartz, Juliette Lewis, Henry Rollins, Alexandria Lee, Beto Calvillo, Celeste Den, Luoyong Wang, Kathy Najimy and Parvesh Cheena