Movies

The Plot Of Sia’s Disastrous New Autism Musical Recreated With Quotes From Baffled Reviews

At a certain point long ago, I discovered that with certain movies, it was far more entertaining to hear them described by critics than actually watch them. And in fact, that one could essentially recreate an entire movie using only expository quotes from reviews.

Never has this pastiche method seemed more appropriate than with Music, a musical an about an autistic teen directed by the musician Sia. The film was originally shot in 2017 starring Kate Hudson with a shaved head and now-even-more-famous Leslie Odom Jr. in a supporting role, but became a source of controversy after autism groups objected to casting a neurotypical actor as the autistic teen — Sia’s “muse” and the star of her previous music videos, Maddie Ziegler.

The film shuffled distributors for a few years and looked like it was on the verge of being buried, The Day The Clown Cried-style, but then those wacky scamps in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association decided to nominate it, at 11% recommended on RottenTomatoes, for two Golden Globe awards. Including Best Picture Musical Or Comedy (!!) and Best Actress In A Musical Or Comedy for Kate Hudson. Music is available now as a VOD rental, but more importantly the reviews started rolling in last week, so let’s dig in.

IMPORTANT BACKGROUND

Music is a musical about a girl named Music. (HollywoodReporter)

The film was directed by mono-monikered Australian singer-producer Sia, pulling behind it more baggage than a pop star’s tour bus. (HollywoodReporter)

Its release has been marred by controversy after the announcement that Sia’s neurotypical muse Maddie Zeigler (Empire)

who appeared on the reality TV show Dance Moms (The Guardian)

would play the autistic teen lead character, Music. (Empire)

It was co-written by kid’s lit author and inspirational social media personality Dallas Clayton, whose first son with actress Shannyn Sossamon was famously named “Audio” (short for “Audio Science”). (Indiewire)

THE SETUP

The film begins with Ziegler performing an interpretive dance set to a new song by Sia about bodies failing and spirits being set free. (NY Times)

In the film’s primary plot, Music lives in a New York City apartment with her grandmother Millie. Assorted neighbors and friends help keep an eye on Music when she has her daily walk each morning by herself around the neighborhood, including Felix, the lonely adopted boy who lives with abusive parents across the street; grumpy recovering building supervisor George (Héctor Elizondo); and down-the-hall resident Ebo (Leslie Odom Jr.). (HollywoodReporter)

Music cannot speak outside of a few phrases — she yells “Make you eggs!” when she wants breakfast — and, as played by Ziegler, always has her mouth open with a wide grin and exaggerates facial expressions like she’s Marcel Marceau. (NY Post)

After her grandmother drops dead on the kitchen floor, remaining there until Hector Elizondo as the obligatory kindly neighbor discovers her… (Chicago Sun-Times)

…Music’s drug-dealing half-sister becomes her new caretaker. The sibling’s name? Kazu. Who was their father? Harpsichord? (NY Post)

‘ZU, PLAYED BY KATE HUDSON

Music’s drug-dealing half-sister becomes her new caretaker. The sibling’s name? Kazu (Kate Hudson). Who was their father? Harpsichord? (NY Post)

Zu’s first impulse is to call Child Protective Services and ask if they do “drop-offs.” (Indiewire)

Zu: “Do you guys do pickup?”

Receptionist: “Pickup, you mean like a laundry service? No, we don’t do that.” (Chicago Sun-Times)

Zu is flaky, reckless and sad, and makes ends meet by dealing pills for a kindly LA drug lord. (The Independent)

On probation provided she keeps attending AA classes, Zu has been sober for about a month, but the new responsibility of looking after Music, whom she barely knows or understands, will test her sobriety. (HollywoodReporter)

EBO

Zu struggles and needs money, bonds with Music, and discovers forms of magical thinking from (Independent)

… a sexy neighbour, played by Leslie Odom Jr, who conveniently knows a lot about autism (New Statesman/Independent)

and utters upbeat African wisdoms. (NY Post)

He had a sibling back in Ghana who was like Music. (HollywoodReporter)

MAGICAL MUSICAL VIDEO LAND

Zu is ill-equipped for the responsibility of watching Music, but the attention of Ebo provides her with enough incentive to stick around. As Zu and Ebo begin to imagine what a family with Music could look like, they sing Sia songs composed specifically for the film in their fantasies. (NY Times)

Each one takes place in a Dylan’s Candy Bar from hell. (NY Post)

The lyrics, jaunty platitudes about Music’s “magic mind” and failing body, are offensive too. (The Guardian)

The walls are mostly hot-pink and Ziegler dons brightly colored tutus with Whoville hair. She runs from a man dressed up as a shaggy dog while performing the angular dances that made her famous. Then she’ll jump with Hudson into a swimming pool filled with foam blocks… (NY Post)

…the sight of Odom shedding his “Hamilton”/”One Night in Miami” dignity to sing an entire solo number in a pair of pants with a 100-inch-or-so waist (Variety)

…plays like Cirque du Soleil doing a commercial for Pepto-Bismol (Chicago Sun-Times)

…rejected Target commercials from a dystopian back-to-school campaign that was commissioned for the kids in “Logan’s Run” (Indiewire)

…quick-cut, frenetic, orange-tinted fantasy musical number when the title character flails about making exaggerated facial and body contortions that would embarrass the worst mime ever to work a city street corner. (Chicago Sun-Times)

Ziegler has been directed to pantomime an exaggerated apery of disability. She gapes, her eyes wide and unfocused, as the choreography leads her through a cruel approximation of twitches and whoops. (NY Times)

RESTRAINT

Sometimes the world gets to be too much for Music and she loses her composure and flips out, and it’s at this point that another character comes in and physically restrains her or sits/lies on top of her, which, according to autistic groups and individuals who’ve taken issue with this project, is not an accepted way of handling such situations (RogerEbert.com)

Using a widely debated method called “restraint,” Ebo attempts to calm Music down during an outburst … by hurling himself on top of her.

“I’m going to crush you now and make you feel safe,” he says.

“You’re not hurting her?” replies a panicked Kazu.

“No, I am crushing her with my love!” (NY Post)

GETTING TO KNOW MUSIC

Ziegler spends the majority of the film’s running time with a beatific grin on her face. (RogerEbert.com)

Music’s function in the film is to be the magical disabled person who facilitates the romance between Zu and Ebo. (HollywoodReporter)

Music is less a girl than she is a prop, a concept or a sentient “Live, Laugh, Love” poster – something to be talked about from across a room, to be used as a font of wisdom, or to be planted face down on the floor when she’s being too vocal in public. (Independent)

She’s a problem, a burden, an issue. She’s defined in relation to other characters’ responsibility to care for or “deal with her.” (RogerEbert.com)

She’s not the main focus of Music at all. (New Statesman)

THE BEST ACTRESS CANDIDATE

Hudson’s character hogs the screen, a drawling, plucky wild-child and ex-addict whose solipsistic world-view (and growing romance with the sexy neighbour) overwhelm the narrative. (New Statesman)

Rocking an arresting buzzcut and frequently dressed only in skimpy sports bras and pants in order to show off her famously well-toned body — Zu also comes off as a narcissistic monster. (HollywoodReporter)

THE CAMEOS

There are distracting cameos (from Juliette Lewis, Henry Rollins and Sia herself), odd stabs at celebrity satire, and a lack of internal logic when it comes to the colourful daydreams. (Independent)

There’s a deep disconnect between the film’s two modes: the music fantasy numbers and the funky downtown indie about gritty “real” things (RogertEbert.com)

…which encompasses so many serious issues, from autism to alcoholism to drug addiction to AIDS to parental abuse to death itself, it’s a like a Tragedy Movie Checklist. (Chicago Sun-Times)

(the generic scene where she smells an opened bottle of alcohol and then pours it down the drain) (RogerEbert.com)

Sia’s cameo is also the film’s most baffling scene, as the pop star — playing herself — buys a massive amount of Oxy and Percocet from Zu with plans to get around the red tape and use her private plane to fly them directly to Haitian kids in need. “Pop Stars Without Borders,” she says with a smile. (Indiewire)

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT

Music isn’t actually an autism movie. It’s a story about recovery from addiction, and restless people striving to be better. But that only leads to further problems. (Independent)

Music is really about its creators’ own vanity, an advertisement for Sia’s and Clayton’s brands. “The people who made this are good and magical,” the film insists in every frame, even as it makes one ugly, unforgivable blunder after another. (VanityFair)

We’re talking about a Mickey Rooney-in-“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” level of wrongheadedness. A neurodivergent minstrel show. (RogerEbert.com)

Let’s toss a huge wig over this thing and pretend it never happened. (Independent)

God, I love awards season.

Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.

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