Review by Camden Ferrell
Music is singer/songwriter Sia’s first endeavor in the world of film. She both directed and co-wrote this musically centric film. Unfortunately, this film is an offensive exploitation of the autistic community that is ill-informed and poorly executed.
Zu, is a recovering addict who deals drugs when she is suddenly entrusted with caring for her half-sister after the death of her grandma. Her half-sister is an autistic teenager named Music, and Zu must grow as a person to take care of not only her sister but herself. This is a premise that isn’t terrible in theory, but the results are abysmal in practice.
The script, co-written by Sia and Dallas Clayton, is a tonal mess from the start. It lacks any compelling dialogue, and many of its lines come off as inconsistent and inconsequential. The movie doesn’t develop a lot of its characters nearly enough, and its themes are incredibly contrived and half-baked. Sia’s direction also seems to be inconsistent, and it truly makes this film drag on much longer than its story warrants.
What the movie truly lacks is an understanding of autism and the proper away to tactfully approach the subject. It’s not subtle in the way it dehumanizes its titular character and how it treats her as a nuisance rather than a person. One could argue this is for the sake of Zu’s development as a character, but there is nothing redeeming in her character to justify how it treats its autistic character.
The acting in this movie is just as messy as the other aspects of the film. Kate Hudson leads the film as Zu. Her acting is bland more often than not, and she isn’t particularly compelling or interesting in any of her scenes. However, Maddie Ziegler delivers one of the most demeaning performances in recent memory as Music. She reduces the character down to some terribly offensive facial expressions and misguided actions that makes you wonder how this was deemed acceptable on set. Leslie Odom Jr. co-stars as Ebo, their neighbor who helps take care of Music. While his performance is the least objectionable of the cast, it is still inconsistent and dull.
The movie features more than one scene of the physical restraint of Music during an episode that is potentially dangerous. It seems this lack of knowledge about the autistic community is present throughout the entire film in smaller quantities. The movie has no interest in exploring the nature of autism. It merely reduces the character to a gimmick to earn cheap sympathy points. It demeans the autistic community and does nothing to advocate or educate.
For a film that is musically centered, there is also a surprising lack of music. The music numbers are more spaced out than one would assume. This wouldn’t be a problem if the interweaving narrative between musical numbers was interesting, but that’s unfortunately not the case with this film. The songs themselves are fairly decent throughout, and this is possibly the film’s sole redeeming characteristic. However, it seems that Sia is concerned with being quirky for the sake of being quirky. Her musical numbers are not the profound metaphor for autism that she seems to believe it is. There is a lot of campy style, but no substance to any of the film’s musical numbers.
Music is a fever dream in all the worst ways. It is a harmful story that perpetuates a lot of negative stigma facing the autistic community. The movie was made without regard for people with autism, and it merely exploits their condition rather than understanding it and empathetically portraying it. This is a movie that is not worth seeing, even for fans of Sia’s previous work.
Music is playing in IMAX theaters February 10 and on VOD February 12.