By Christian DiMartino
People have been talking about Sia’s directorial debut Music quite a bit lately. For starters, when the Golden Globe nominations were announced recently, most were surprised to see Music included. Mostly based on the fact that most of us didn’t know what the hell it was, but it nabbed nominations for Best Picture-Musical or Comedy, and Best Actress for Kate Hudson (despite even nominating On the Rocks for Supporting Actor, the film overall was ignored in exchange for whatever this movie was). The talk began again whenever people finally saw the movie, and boy, what talk.
After having seen Music, it makes its Golden Globe nominations all the more baffling. Because… guys, this thing is bad. It’s really bad. It’s interestingly bad, but not necessarily interesting. It’s… it’s bad. I sense a good movie within Music, but I certainly don’t see one, considering it’s all so drastically, spectacularly wrong. Madonna once said that music makes the people come together. She is right, except in this case, Music will make the people come together to talk about how awful Music is.
Ah, where to begin? Well, pretty much from its opening minutes, you can sense that you’re in trouble, as we see the title character (yes, her name is Music), played by Maddie Ziegler, as she runs around an orange room singing and making the wonkiest of faces. Now, I knew going into it that this was about a girl with autism. What I was less aware of was that Ziegler doesn’t have autism- she was cast because she is frequently in Sia’s videos. Now, I’m not one of those Twitter people who will jump a movie due to inauthentic casting. I think if a straight person wants to play a gay person, go ahead, because it’s called acting. Would you want an actual serial killer to play a serial killer? Chances are, probably not. There are certain things though that you run the risk of getting backlash with, unless it’s done really, really well, and your film gets more brownie points if you go the authentic route, instead of choosing an actor. Scarlett Johansson playing a transgender… probably wouldn’t have been the best call. Yet here is Ziegler, and if the performance had been great, like Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? great, then we wouldn’t be talking about this. But… sigh… it’s hard to watch. I know Ziegler is acting, and this can’t be an easy role… but she is horrible, sinking everything and everyone around her.
The problem with Ziegler’s performance is that it’s basically one-note, and that note, unfortunately, brings Ben Stiller’s Simple Jack from Tropic Thunder to mind. If Ziegler actually had autism, the film might’ve gotten away with it. Since she doesn’t though, it all feels so painfully false, and it even borders on the offensive. If you ever saw the Garry Marshall/ Juliette Lewis disaster The Other Sister, you’ll know just what I mean.
Ziegler’s trainwreck aside, it’s a performance in service of another trainwreck: the movie itself. Ziegler’s Music is thrown into a tizzy whenever her grandma (Mary Kay Place, probably relieved to get the hell out of there) drops dead. So Music’s estranged sister, named Zu (Hudson, with a real Sinead O’Connor/ Negasonic Teenage Warhead thing going on), a drug addict and dealer, is called in to come take care of her. You know, for a drug addict, she kind of has the body of Ellen Ripley, which I guess fits in with the hair. Well, she’s nearly sober, and of course having to take on this sort of responsibility… well you get the idea. Leslie Odom Jr. stars as Ebo, and… wait wait wait, what are these names? Music? Zu? Ebo? I don’t know if Sia has children, but something tells me that if these aren’t their names, their names are probably in the same ballpark.
Speaking of Sia, she’s in the movie too, and if this didn’t already feel like enough of a vanity project (every ounce of it does), it’s in a cameo that, you guessed it, praises Sia. Now I’m sure that the intentions of the story were good, but… something went wrong here. Aside from Ziegler, Music essentially feels like a series of music videos, masquerading as an actual movie. What’s weird is that these songs aren’t… bad, but the way in which they’re presented is all wrong. The music numbers here all feel like a weirdo art-piece, kind of like Sia’s other videos, from what I’ve seen. Yet someone, somewhere along the way must’ve stopped and thought, “Guys, isn’t this a little silly?” You got Kate Hudson to dress up in a costume that felt like it came from out of The Wiggles, are you proud of yourself?
And there’s another thing: Hudson, who I’ve always liked despite not liking many of her movies, is… actually good here. Her, and the songs, show us a glimpse of a movie worth a damn. The execution and everything else though sink whatever merit the film has though. Sia said that she cast Ziegler mostly because the autistic people who auditioned for the role didn’t feel comfortable with it. Which, yes, makes sense. Yet Ziegler’s performance and Sia’s direction have gone about it in all the wrong ways. They probably should’ve, I don’t know, taken guidance from someone who is actually on the spectrum. Because from where I’m sitting, Music suffers from the same exact issue that The Other Sister did: it feels as if it was written and directed by aliens who tried to give their own interpretation of autism. The end result is in a whole other Milky Way of awful. A film of fine intentions, I’m sure, but a horrendous, tone deaf misfire. Sia, honey, you might just wanna keep swingin’ from that chandelier.