Music ★½

I've liked some of Sia's songs and some of her music videos over the years. Her horribly titled directorial debut, MUSIC, is every bit on-brand, but has all kinds of trouble communicating an actual story. Right off the bat, the vague ambiguous title may have doomed her film from easily being located in streaming services search bars. It took for ever to find it on iTunes by simply typing in 'music' or 'music sia'. However, lost in obscurity, barely reachable by search engines' algorithms is not an entirely bad outcome given its quality. Sia's film is a feature-length music video with interludes of banal drama and supposed lessons about the autism community, and it's a overblown, disingenuous show of goodness.

It bothers me a bit that the film's central focus pretends to be about Kate Hudson's autistic sister--and possibly about the autism community. It isn't. At all. This is the story of Kate Hudson's character (Zu, short for Kazu). Zu is narcissistic almost-40 adult child, coming to terms with herself, NOT the caretaking challenges of a sister with special needs. In fact, the film has very little to say about autism except a few most basic of facts gleaned from a doctor's pamphlet somewhere. Little nuggets emerge about how autistic kids' need routine and experience sensory overload. Maddie Ziegler plays Zu's ASD sister (named Music), and this lame script gives her no substance or motivations. She is an unfortunately underwritten character meant to be at the heart of the film. However, she is little more than a prop for Kate Hudson.

Ziegler sells the tics and movements of a highly autistic person, I guess. I don't feel I can fault her performance. However, this film's raison d'etre is little more than to be an extended Sia video. Thus, dramatic theatrical dissolves and fades transport our characters from crappy little apartments to boxy sets painted in primary colours for fancy dance numbers. The characters transform from low-income troubled folks to dancers dressed like colorful toilet brushes and household products. The costumes feel inspired by Fruit-of-the-Loom mascots or possibly characters from the movie SAUSAGE PARTY. I'll not judge too harshly, you know, because it's art. Several of these numbers at least partly rely on choreography of facial tics and jerky muscle spasms. It's an uncomfortable mircocosm of some of the dance choreography as it takes uncontrollable autistic tics and sets them to a beat. I honestly don't think Sia has intended offense or shallow representation of the autistic community, yet Maddie Ziegler twitches and jerks her facial muscles through a number of these overblown musical numbers. If a movie attempted to cover seriously the struggles of obesity, I doubt the choreography would involve quirky fat-suits. It's just tonally off.

I wish I could say that MUSIC's music was good, but very little of it was even notable. If MUSIC worked as a strong musical, it could afford a few flaws elsewhere. However, the songs are only decent, and hardly memorable. And maybe it's just me, but Kate Hudson is completely unremarkable in either song or dance. Leslie Odom Jr. stands out as a charismatic actor and dancer and fits in fine. Maddie Ziegler is a dancer by trade, so she's great. But these selections are weird and inconsistent at best. The wonderful actor Hector Elizondo even gets invited onto the stage during one dance number and he is quickly relegated to the back row of dancers where he can't be seen.

MUSIC is a bit clumsy and unfocused at best. The script is weighed down by clunky, unclear subplots. Zu is a drug dealer. There's a quiet overweight guy with low self-esteem across the street with his whole thing going on. The story never dutifully acknowledges the impact of the passing of Music's grandmother. MUSIC is problematic and scattered beyond saving. I know the film got in trouble for its portrayal of an autistic girl, but the problem to me lies in the fact that MUSIC is more of a vainglorious effort about a vapid character (Hudson's Zu) than anything insighful or endearing.

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