Harmful stereotypes and bad performances are just some of the many failures that make up this sappy, lazy musical-drama
When an obviously offensive film is put out into the world, it can often be difficult to write about anything other than the ways in which it offends, leaving the actual filmmaking and craft under-discussed. In the case of Music, though, that may actually be a blessing in disguise, with this directorial debut from pop-music megastar Sia also failing completely on its own terms – an underdeveloped, uncomfortable, and for the most part dull story of a makeshift family coming together.
Much has already been written on how insensitive Music is as a portrayal of non-verbal autism, with neurotypical actress Maddie Ziegler playing autistic teen Music, and how downright dangerous it is in its approving portrayal of restraint, a physical technique to stop meltdowns that has killed autistic people in the past. There’s not much more I can add to this conversation, but it is profoundly uncomfortable to watch, made all the worse by the fact that Music isn’t even the main character.
Instead, this young autistic girl is used as a mere prop in someone else’s story, her condition proving to be the inspiration that her older sister Zu (Kate Hudson) needs in order to become her best self. Battling with addiction, Zu is forced back into Music’s life after their grandmother dies, having to balance caring for her sister with staying clean and finding work.
Sia has bitten off far more than she can chew here, directing, writing, and creating the musical numbers, positive proof that a great talent in one art form doesn’t necessarily translate into competence in another. The world-building and dialogue are woeful, while tonal whiplash abounds and all the heavy lifting of character development is done through montages.
Instead of actually investing us in the story, Music is constantly carving out time for wacky set-pieces and side plots that strain all credulity, even in the slightly fantastical atmosphere that Sia is aiming for. Zu, it transpires, is a high-end drug dealer, selling pills to millionaires with seemingly no risk at all – her boss even lets her off the hook for losing thousands of dollars of product just because he knows she’s had a tough time. In one truly bizarre scene, Zu drags Music to one of these deals where Sia (making a meta cameo as herself) is the buyer, promising to donate the pain pills she’s buying to impoverished disaster zones.
It’s a scene that serves as an effective microcosm of the film itself – confused, misjudged, and clearly motivated by vanity above all else. Performances are terrible across the board – even Leslie Odom Jr., as kindly Ghanaian boxing instructor, Ebo, can’t salvage anything from a role that skates far too close to the “magical Black man” trope – but with material this shoddy it’s hard to blame the actors.
Ziegler, in particular, deserves to be excused, while the distressing behind the scenes stories of her breaking down in tears over the nature of the performance adds to the sour taste of the final product. Music is as irredeemably calamitous as you’ve heard – a distasteful mess that should serve as a cautionary tale for other musicians thinking of trying their hand at filmmaking.
Music is now available on various streaming services.Where to watch