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Film Review: ‘Music’ Has No Rhythm

Music – perhaps you heard of it? Well, actually, probably not.

Last week, the Golden Globes released their nominations for this year’s awards cycle, and they left many scratching their heads, more than usual. When the nominations where announced and Kate Hudson’s name was read in the Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical category, there was a brief moment where my brain scrambled to remember what Hudson had been in recently. Moments later, the movie was named a nominee for Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical.

On the off chance you have heard about Music, it’s because last year it caused a bit of a controversy when singer-songwriter Sia, who makes her directorial debut here, responded poorly when asked why she didn’t cast an autistic person in the lead role. Her responses ranged from telling one person maybe they weren’t a good enough actor, to a frustrated, profanity-laden tweet about how people should see her film first.

The time has come for the movie to be released, amidst pushback and confusion, and Music is most definitely a misbegotten outing. The movie follows Music (Maddie Ziegler, a frequent collaborator of Sia’s), who is on the autism spectrum. Music lives with her grandmother (Mary Kay Place), but when her grandmother passes away, no one is around to take care of Music. George (Hector Elizondo) and Ebo (Leslie Odom Jr.) live in the building and are always willing to help, but Music needs a full-time guardian.

Zu (Hudson), Music’s half-siter, enters the picture upon notice her grandmother passed away. She is a recovering addict, newly sober, and heads to her grandmother’s house to get things situated with Music, before heading off to Costa Rica to live. In no time at all, Zu realizes she is in way over her head, and Ebo has to step in and teach her Music’s routines and her needs.

Music is one of those movies where you know Sia had the best intentions in mind, but those intentions are nowhere to be found in such a baffling mess of a movie. Deciding to cast Ziegler in the lead role, opposed to someone who lives on the autism spectrum, feels like a way to manufacture conflict, and not bring awareness. Music feels like it missteps every step of the way, but it never feels like it does so with malice.

Sia, who co-wrote the screenplay with Dallas Clayton, is an undisputable visual artist, but that doesn’t equate to good filmmaker. Scenes cut to musical interludes throughout, which are colorful and energetic, but absolutely jarring and out of place. What purpose do they serve? To express Music’s emotions, since she is mostly non-verbal? Perhaps, but it feels like we have to extrapolate from the mess they create for the momentum of the story.

There are subplots and dramatic turns, which don’t fit the movie. Familiar faces show up throughout: Ben Schwartz plays a drug dealer in braids, Tig Notaro is a television host, Juliette Lewis plays a friend of Zu’s and Sia makes a cameo appearance as a popstar in need of prescription pills from Zu. It seems these actors wanted a chance to work with Sia, but their roles don’t serve the story Sia is trying to tell here.

The feel-goodness Sia and Clayton felt on the page feels a bit phony and manipulative on screen, but Music will always be in the trivia books as one of the most confounding Golden Globe nominees. And that says a lot.

SCORE: ★1/2

Music will be available in select theaters and on demand February 12.

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Written by Matt Passantino

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