Cast: Kate Hudson, Leslie Odom Jr., Maddie Ziegler
Runtime: 1 hr 48 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Drug References And Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 25 February 2021
Synopsis: MUSIC is about the magic that can happen when someone who cannot speak with words finds people who can listen with their hearts. The story begins when Zu (Hudson), estranged from her family and a lifelong self-saboteur, finds herself the sole guardian of Music (Ziegler), her teenage half-sister, after the death of their grandmother. Music is nonverbal and on the autism spectrum, and her grandmother has lovingly created a schedule and daily routine to support her with the help of some neighborhood friends. Not having had her grandmother’s experience of loving and caring for Music, Zu instantly struggles with her new responsibility as caretaker. Their less than peaceful first breakfast together is overheard by their neighbor Ebo (Odom), a kind and gentle soul who surprises Zu by demonstrating not only his compassion, but his keen understanding of Music. His own, slowly revealed life story, makes him someone Zu can depend on and learn from as well. MUSIC combines a heartfelt tale about the power of love with musical sequences that propel and amplify the story, giving the audience a vivid window into the characters’ inner lives.
Ironically, for a movie titled ‘Music’ that marks the filmmaking debut of the multi-platinum selling musician Sia, this family drama is utterly tone-deaf.
We’re not talking about the music (by Sia obviously) or the song-and-dance numbers choreographed by Ryan Heffington; oh no, we’re referring to the very concept of the film itself, which has Sia’s real-life, able-bodied, neurotypical teenage muse Maddie Ziegler play a non-verbal autistic girl struggling to cope with the death of her beloved grandmother (Mary Kay Place).
Plenty of non-autistic Hollywood actors have played autistic characters before, but Ziegler’s performance is so affected that you’ll be left cringing from start to finish. Indeed, it doesn’t require that you know or have interacted with a person suffering from autism to know that Ziegler is ‘faking’ it, and to sit through 100 minutes of it is not only torturous but infuriating at how she has (inadvertently or otherwise) turned disability into mockery.
Just as exasperating is how Sia’s movie, while titled after Ziegler’s character, decides after the first act that it is in fact more interested in Music’s older half-sister Zu (Kate Hudson), a former drug dealer struggling to stay sober. It doesn’t take a genius to know that Zu is ill-equipped to take care of Music, and Sia’s focus shifts quickly to chronicling Zu’s efforts to recover from her alcoholism and drug-filled lifestyle. The topic is personal to Sia, given her own past struggles with substance abuse, but the ‘kitchen-sink’ realism which she is clearly aiming for here feels no less artificial than Ziegler’s portrayal of autism.
Both Hudson and Ziegler are trapped in a movie that frankly doesn’t seem to know what story it wants to tell. Neither Music or Zu are developed enough for this to qualify as character drama, and the plotting by Sia and Dallas Clayton (based on Sia’s own story) is as boring as watching paint dry. It is so dreary that we found ourselves falling asleep on multiple occasions trying to finish the movie, and ending up hating the movie even more for making us sit through it more than once.
Even with ‘Hamilton’ heavyweight Leslie Odom Jr playing a Ghanian immigrant named Ebo whom Zu develops a liking for, there is hardly enough to keep you engaged in an utterly tiresome slog. Neither for that matter do the other supporting acts, such as the building supervisor George (Hector Elizondo), an adopted boy Felix (Beto Calvillo) living with abusive parents, or Zu’s drug dealer Rudy (Ben Schwartz), enliven the proceedings at any point, largely because Sia cannot quite figure out just what she wants to do with these characters.
In place of any meaningful plot or character development, Sia throws in more than the occasional musical set-pieces of bouncy pop tunes accompanied with colourful sets and costumes. These spectacles represent the flights of fancy of the characters, whom Sia paints as trying to escape from the drudgery of their everyday lives, but the juxtaposition between reality and fantasy comes off crass and jarring. Don’t get us wrong – they are enjoyable in their own right, perhaps as music videos to Sia’s tunes, but in the context of the movie, they are simply superfluous and clumsy.
We do not doubt Sia had the good intention of giving voice to the marginalised people represented as characters in her film, but that does not excuse how misbegotten an exercise this is. As Warner Music correctly figured, Sia does not have the filmmaking chops for this to be the compelling dramatic vehicle she had envisioned; but the subsequent choice to throw in 10 original songs in the form of cotton candy confections results in off-balance schizophrenic swings only makes the film worse. Certainly, it doesn’t save the movie from its horrendous lead Ziegler, who just simply cannot pull off the role.
So put the two (roundly panned) Golden Globe nominations it had received aside, ‘Music’ is tone-deaf, and like the singer who likes to hide her face, should have been hidden away too.
(You'll want to turn off this cacophony of painful acting, shallow writing and misguided direction)
Review by Gabriel Chong