- Margaux Petit
REVIEW | 'MUSIC' IS A HOT MESS OF A MOVIE
Sia's dive into directorship was essentially doomed from the start. From her casting of neurotypical Maddie Ziegler to her tokenisation of trans actors, it's fair to say that nobody's hopes were sky-high. Music confirmed what we all knew and feared: autistic people are not about to get the representation they deserve from an out of touch Hollywood singer.
The premise of the film itself is relatively simple: after her grandmother passes away, drug addict and dealer Zu (Kate Hudson) is faced with the care of her half sister Music (Maddie Ziegler), helped by her neighbour (Leslie Odom Jr.). Hudson and Odom Jr.'s performances are passable; Ziegler's is not. Other more qualified writers have broken down the ways in which her performance is basically offensive mimicry of actual non-verbal autism. But even as someone with limited experience around people with autism, I felt really uncomfortable watching it: the sounds and faces Ziegler makes don't really come across as an actor inhabiting a role (even though I knew that's what she was) but of a teenager parodying an already marginalised community.
The film itself is an exercise in poor cinematography. The pacing is poor, the editing is choppy and amateur, tones and visual themes bounce between the eye-wateringly over-saturated and the hilariously dull. The audience is given no reason whatsoever to root for any of the characters beyond the fact that they're involved some way or another in Music's life. This reenforces the idea that people with autism - especially non-verbal - exist as some sort of means to an end and that anybody in proximity to them should be simultaneously pitied and congratulated. The musical numbers come at inappropriate times and leave an uncomfortable amount of space in between the very real, very distressing reality of Music's life and the sickeningly childish visuals of the dance world. They are meant to act as a representation of how Music sees the world, which is an infantilising as it is unrealistic. How can a film that claims to endear and inform us to the struggles of autism compare an autistic child's experience of it to a Katy Perry music video in the same breath?
I have no idea what was going through Sia's mind when she pitched this hot mess of a movie, but the impression I got was: "this is gonna make me look SO woke". Watching this film felt like going through Oscar-bait checklist: Kid with learning difficulties? Check. Female lead (with short hair, so you know she's not like the other girls)? Check. Supporting role played by a PoC? Check. Drug addiction, domestic violence and AIDS? Oh yeah, that's in there too. All that was missing with the war veteran and racism. But did she actually bother to tell a meaningful story that explored, addressed or even commented on these various tropes? Nope.
Music may be a bad film but it can at least serve as both warning and reminder: Hollywood superstars are not who we should be looking to for representation in film. Despite all the money and contacts at her disposal, Sia missed an opportunity to tell a great story (or any kind of story at all) that incorporated or examined autism with any kind of weight of meaningfulness. Autistic people and their loved ones deserve fun, beautiful films with candy-cane pop music and heartwarming endings - Music just isn't one of them.