Sia is an Australian popstar whose thoughtful lyrics, emotive voice and catchy music’s rhythms have always been complemented by artful and surreal music videos. Her music has been used in soundtracks like The Neon Demon, yet it’s her directorial debut with which she unleashes 10 new songs to compel her venture into film-making.
Once, a film about a vacuum cleaner repair man and an immigrant, seemed as if the film was there to market the soundtrack. Relying on singles these days, rather than albums, and being throttled by music streaming services, music artists have had to get creative in the way they exhibit, extrapolate or take ownership of their work. Fulfilling her creative pursuits and capitalising on her fame, Sia has expanded her talents to include producing and directing, tackling a coming-of-age drama musical in a feature film debut.
Incorporating musical style cutaways these surreal interludes connect the fabric of a coming-of-age drama about two sisters. One a recovering alcoholic and the other on the autistic spectrum, they confront many challenges when a caregiver is no longer able to look after her sister.
Kate Hudson does a phenomenal job, reinventing herself with a Sinead O’Connor look, which may have contributed to a much more open and vulnerable performance. A radiant face with sparkling eyes, this unconventional Hudson role is just what she needed to break out of her comfort zone. Acting, dancing and singing she showcases her versatility, game for just about anything and following through without any sense of inhibition. Her lead performance is the glue that holds Music together, giving the drama backbone and conviction. Hudson’s lead performance is impressive enough to keep things moving forward in spite of the distractions in terms of handling. On a brighter note, Leslie Odom Jr. is an actor with a warm screen presence and a wonderful future appearing in a supporting role as her neighbour, Ebo.
Maddie Ziegler has been a longtime collaborator of Sia’s. Having featured as a dancer in the powerful music video for Chandelier, which has been viewed over a billion times means she was already on the map at a tender age. Since then, she’s performed opposite Shia LaBeouf causing some controversy at the time and now stars as the titular character in Music. Unfortunately, this loyal and well-meaning decision has backfired for both Sia and her young protégé, Ziegler. Try as she may, Ziegler is miscast as the titular character, Music. There’s an uneasiness to her performance, not getting the dramatic turf and centredness she needed to portray the disability with greater nuance.
The music sounds better with you.
Music has received a backlash for its representation of autism, coping techniques and support community. While trying to be more inclusive in terms of casting, the treatment is uncomfortable and the handling insensitive when it comes to depicting the disability. While the film has garnered Golden Globe nominations there was a public outcry with autism groups calling for Music to be cancelled. Sia’s responses have been just as awkward, forcing her to put social media accounts on ice.
Grappling with the disability as a part-autism drama, the director was misguided, consulting with the wrong people in the development stages. Introducing dancer, model and actor Maddie Ziegler by way of this co-lead role was always going to be a risk. The screenplay doesn’t fully support the character, the dance cutaways provide an ill-conceived contrast and Ziegler’s superficial performance generally overextends into mawkish.
The music is powerful and reverberates with her trademark vocals and big sound. Using the power of story may have inspired her music further in preparing this collection, which presents itself as music video style interludes. Resourceful, the design is simple, human-centred and colourful… essentially big budget on a budget using lighting and choreography to upsize appeal. A rainbow colour palette imbues an ’80s sensibility with a naieve fantasy flair.
Ultimately, Sia’s trying to do too much in Music. Tapping into timely themes and trying to marry autism drama with unexpected romance is no easy feat. She has great intuition when it comes to film-making, siphoning some good performances from her relatively unknown cast. Yet, perhaps having so much creative control and responsibility over Music resulted in too many blind spots. It’s easy to overlook things when you’re overly invested and perhaps a few more objective advisors would’ve been able to sidestep some of the film’s fundamental flaws.
While misguided, Sia demonstrates vision in this sentimental Amelie-inspired state of wonder and ability in the treatment of some of the more tender moments. While the film is actively trying to be inclusive, insensitive missteps around autism leave a bad taste in the mouth. Focusing on Hudson’s charm, Sia’s grand pop music, the story’s upbeat spirit and creative outpouring instead of Ziegler and the mishandling will help. Sia’s even said she wants to cut the restraint scenes in the future. Yet, it’s still difficult to overlook without some discomfort and misgivings.
The bottom line: Mawkish