‘Music’ review: Sia’s clumsy autism drama hits all the wrong notes

The Aussie pop star has faced online fury for casting neurotypical Maddie Ziegler as an autistic teen

A lot has already been said about Music, now infamous as a major misstep in the career of pop supernova Sia. The short version is this: Sia writes and directs her first movie, casting neurotypical dancer Maddie Ziegler in the role of an autistic teenager. When fans pull Sia up on not booking an austic actor, she is quick to defend her choice on social media, huffily writing: “Grrrrrrrrrr. Fuckity fuck why don’t you watch my film before you judge it? FURY,” adding that she had indeed cast some “special abilities kids” to work on the film, but that one young actor had found the experience “unpleasant and stressful” and that it would be “cruel” to cast anyone actually non-verbal in the role. Rather than listening to the valid concerns from the underrepresented community she was attempting to depict on screen, she snarked back.

Things got worse when people actually saw the film, its depiction of the developmental condition branded offensive and even dangerous, with a scene in which Maddie Ziegler’s character is physically restrained called out for its insensitivity. This time around, Sia pivoted to full apology mode. “Music in no way condones or recommends the use of restraint on autistic people,” she wrote. “…I plan to remove the restraint scenes from all future printings. I listened to the wrong people and that is my responsibility, my research was clearly not thorough enough, not wide enough.” Sia then deleted her Twitter account.

Music review
Maddie Ziegler and Kate Hudson in ‘Music’. CREDIT: Signature Entertainment

For a star whose only previous controversy occurred back in 2014 when she was accused of sexualising then 12-year-old Ziegler in the music video for ‘Chandelier’, the whole thing seemed to come out of the blue. Yet even this wasn’t as much of a shock as the fact that, despite the outcry, the film was nominated for two Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

Maybe this meant that somewhere, underneath all the Rain Man-style stereotyping, there was a good film just itching to get out? Not quite.

Called a “magical” presence – and treated as more of a mystical pixie than a human being, Ziegler’s character Music is all about othering over acceptance. When her grandmother and carer dies, Music’s drug-dealing half-sister Zu – played by a buzzcutted Kate Hudson – is parachuted in to care for her. Of course, she has no idea what she’s doing, but a kindly community rallies around her to help, including Leslie Odom Jr.’s Ebo, Zu’s burgeoning love interest.

And so the film becomes Zu’s rather than Music’s, a well-trodden tale of redemption, with Music reduced to a supporting stock character whose main purpose is to help Zu become a better person rather than have any kind of narrative arc of her own.

This is all cut with pastel-toned dream-like dance routines which hit the midpoint between sugary Katy Perry pop confection and 1930s Busby Berkeley showstopper. The Sia-penned soundtrack is sung largely by Hudson, whose decent vocals are perhaps the film’s saving grace, but it’s still not nearly enough to make Music a sound proposition.

Details

  • Director: Sia
  • Starring: Maddie Ziegler, Kate Hudson, Leslie Odom Jr.
  • Release date: February 15 (Amazon Prime Video)
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