Music (2021)


Running Time: 108 Minutes

Certification: 12

Starring: Kate Hudson, Leslie Odom Jr., Maddie Ziegler, Héctor Elizondo, Mary Kay Place, Brandon Soo Hoo, Beto Calvillo, Ben Schwartz

It's become commonplace for musicians to transition over to film, and after making cameos in the likes of Annie and Peter Rabbit, Sia now makes her directorial debut. The lead-up to this release has been overshadowed by controversy, which the co-writer and director responded to through online tirades, and even insulted an actor with autism. It's a poor way to promote your work, yet if we step away from that to view the film on it's own terms, it's even worse.

Estranged from her family, Zu (Kate Hudson) is a recovering addict trying to keep out of prison, while attempting to pay back a gangster named Rudy (Ben Schwartz). She finds herself the sole guardian of Music (Maddie Ziegler), her teenage half-sister who has autism. Zu struggles with the new responsibilities, yet is helped by her neighbour, Ebo (Leslie Odom Jr.).

Taking on the titular role is Maddie Ziegler, moving on from leading Sia's music videos, to making her debut lead role in a feature. This is where much of the aforementioned controversy came from, as a non-autistic person was cast to play a character with autism, taking away an opportunity for much-needed representation. Instead of an actor with autism leading the film, we're left with a neurotypical actor bringing alive a tired caricature, which feels misguided, and comes off as the laziest form of Oscar bait.

Adding insult to injury is how our character with autism, who the film is named after, never feels like an important part in her own story. For all intents and purposes, Kate Hudson's Zu is our lead, as she reconnects with the family she's been distant from for some time, and tries to remain sober while selling drugs to high-paying clients. There's nothing wrong with her being the lead, however it's a sour feeling when it comes at the expense of Music, who feels more like a prop to better her sister's life. The focus is instead given to a forced romance and a random assembly of cameos.

Musical sequences are utilised all throughout, delivering the film's most vibrant and flashy elements set to the heavy-handed lyrics for Sia's songs. These are intended as an insight into Music's mind, a way to get audiences to see her perception of the world, yet it never comes across this way. It instead feels like cinematic self-indulgence, for Sia to show-off in unnecessary fashion, and remains just one part among an odd jumble of scenes.

An excessive amount is done across too many subplots, and very little of it actually works. This is best exemplified in a subplot about Felix, a gentle soul played by Beto Calvillo. He shares an unrequited love for Music, while his home life involves living in fear of his abusive father. It seemingly exists to deliver some emotional beats, yet fails to even deliver a satisfying resolution, so just feels unnecessary. This is emblematic of a larger problem, as the film is unwilling to put the work in where needed, opting for lazy shortcuts to reach the ending.

There's so much of this film which feels so mishandled, as though it fell short of intentions. When it tries to be uplifting and feel good, the scenes feel as though they're going through the motions. The moments of humour comes off as improvisational, in the way Judd Apatow has made a successful career out of, yet feel stiff instead of humorous.What's left is a regressive feature which uses the spectrum in such a disingenuous manner, to trick neurotypical audiences to feel good about themselves, in the spirit of crass Oscar bait.

Music is available on Digital Download from 15th February