Music: Film Review


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about Sia‘s directorial debut Music already thanks to the controversy over her casting Maddie Ziegler as an autistic teen. When the backlash first began late last year, Sia urged people to wait and see the movie before judging it and now I’ve done just that, I can tell you everyone was spot-on with their criticism back then. 

Sia’s longtime muse and regular music video star Ziegler stars as Music, a largely non-verbal teenager who has been raised by her grandmother Millie (Mary Kay Place), with some help from neighbours George (Hector Elizondo) and Ebo (Leslie Odom Jr.). When Millie suddenly passes away, recovering addict Zu (Kate Hudson) is forced to become her younger sister’s guardian, which is a recipe for disaster because she can barely look after herself, let alone a teenager with complex needs. 

Sia has insisted that she had good intentions when she made this movie and I’m sure she didn’t set out to make a film that is offensive to the very community she’s trying to spotlight. Casting Ziegler as an autistic character was a misguided decision in itself – yes, it’s been done in the past (Rain Man and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape spring to mind) but this is 2021 and times have changed – but what makes it even worse is the depiction of the character. Ziegler’s mannerisms are exaggerated and like a caricature of an autistic person; Music never feels like a real human being. 

And what’s even worse (yes, really) is that Music (the person) isn’t the star of this film, even though she’s the title character. You go in expecting her to be the lead and it starts off that way, but she is pushed aside once Zu comes into the picture. Her story is lost in favour of Zu’s redemption arc; her getting her s**t together, learning how to step up and be a responsible adult, and find love. Music fades into the background more and more and becomes a supporting character.

But the issues don’t stop there. The movie is littered with these fantasy musical sequences that are colourful, vibrant, and highly stylised and serve as Music’s daydreams, yet they offer no real insight into her mind. I’m a big fan of Sia’s music so I liked most of the songs and the contemporary choreography was interesting to watch but they made no sense within the context of the rest of the film. It was originally conceived as a straightforward drama and then it became a musical and that doesn’t surprise me because it feels like two very different films have been squashed together. A serious gritty drama about an addict’s recovery doesn’t gel with a series of surreal music videos! They also interrupt the flow of the narrative and don’t add anything to the story or push it forward, they’re basically just pointless musical interludes. They were the highlights of the film for me, but they made absolutely no sense.

I don’t want to place any blame on Ziegler because she was 14 at the time of filming Music and it’s unfortunate that she was cast at all. Given the dance sequences, I can see why Sia hired her go-to dancer, but casting a neurotypical actor as Music was a bad call. Hudson doesn’t do a terrible job yet I’m still baffled about her recent Golden Globe nomination for this, it wasn’t nomination-worthy in my book. Odom Jr. is the kind and compassionate Ebo, who is given an unconvincing romance storyline with Zu, while Ben Schwartz plays Zu’s employer – she sells his drugs to clients such as Evelyn (Juliette Lewis) and “Popstar Without Borders”, played by Sia in a mind-boggling random cameo. But everyone is done a disservice by the script, which only offers up one-dimensional characters. 

Sia once opened up about the difficulties in the editing process for Music, which took over three years, and that’s pretty clear too. The film is a mess, the different tones don’t fit, it’s a mishmash bundle of scenes, and Kathy Najimy is in the credits even though her part has been reduced to us seeing the back of her head. Following the Globe nominations, during which Music was inexplicably nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Sia apologised and said the restraint scenes in the film would be removed and a warning label would be added – this was certainly not the case for the copy I watched. 

I don’t recommend watching Music. It’s offensive, tone-deaf, misguided, not to mention poorly made. 

Available on digital platforms from Monday 15th February

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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