Music is the feature-length directorial debut of singer-songwriter Sia. It is a musical drama which stars Maddie Ziegler as the title character Music, a young teenage girl who is autistic and is left to be raised by her estranged half-sister Zu (played by Kate Hudson) after her grandmother suddenly passes. Zu can barely look after herself as she is a recovering addict and drug dealer. She struggles at first, not having the slightest clue how to look after her sister and her needs, but soon enough she finds some sort of rhythm with the help of neighbours George (played by Héctor Elizondo) and Ebo (played by Leslie Odom Jr.).
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this film on two factors, the first being the casting of the title character, Music. Maddie Ziegler is well known to Sia as she has danced in a lot of her music videos, but she herself isn’t on the autistic spectrum. She is a neurotypical actor who is having to portray someone with autism. The autism community as well as others, suggested that Sia use someone who actually knows what it feels like to be Music, to actually have autism. The other factor is to do with the scenes where Music is having to be restrained because she’s ‘out of control’ and ‘can’t be handled’. This can be highly triggering for some people in the community, as well as for others who aren’t okay with seeing a young distressed girl being restrained and smothered by someone else bigger than her. Odom’s character Ebo is the first seen to do this, and even though Zu asks him, with tears in her eyes, if he’s hurting her, he replies that he isn’t and that he’s simply ‘crushing her with love”. He does this as if it’s normal, as if Music is used to this, even though she still struggles and is clearly still distressed at this. Sia has commented, apologised and given her explanations to these matters.
The film itself is very intriguing in the way it’s put together, by including transitions into musical interludes which pay homage to Sia’s creativity behind a lot of her music videos and her sense of style. The music scenes are a sense of what goes on inside Music’s head (as well as other characters that feature). Those particular scenes are colourful, vibrant and wild, almost like a watercolour painting of a rainbow.
The film as a whole is beautifully captured, with the music being one the bigger standouts. Written mostly for the film, Sia has created a dynamic and catchy soundtrack that will get most people up on their feet dancing. However, at first I was somewhat shocked by the whole “drama” of the sudden jump from film to ‘music montage’. It didn’t quite fit, and to me it felt as though I was watching two different films, but after watching for a while, it began to merge together. It felt more normal and towards the end I was almost always expecting it. It was needed. It gives the film a freshness and a new beat of a broken heart. It takes you to somewhere else, allowing you to forget the tragic story that is going on, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
What I struggled with at first was seeing someone like Maddie, who I know is a terrific dancer, but acting as someone who has autism. It didn’t feel right to me at first, it felt as though she was somehow mocking the community (but unintentionally of course). I agree with those out there that say Music should have been portrayed more authentically by using someone who is within the community itself… However, after a while of realising there isn’t anything I can personally do about it, I was able to just watch and enjoy it. I grew to love Maddie and applaud her acting because this must’ve been such a challenge for her, as it was up to her to give justice to the character without seeming to mock the austistic community.
Both Hudson and Odom Jr. were great in their respective roles. Each giving a unique twist to their characters, and showing us how deep and raw they can go with Zu and Ebo, their relationship as well as their struggles with life… but for me it was Beto Calvillo as Felix (Music’s neighbour from across the road) who won me and my heart over. Wow, what a man and what a character. Even though he has no lines in the film, he really does give off a beautiful vibe with his presence and his adoring friendship with Music and her family. You see him struggle with his own family as well as his inner demons, but all he cares about is making sure Music is happy. Just by watching his scenes (especially towards the end), you feel all the emotions pour out of him purely because of the love and respect he has for his friend. Cavillo’s portrayal of Felix also demonstrates that you don’t need a speaking part to show off your skills as an actor.
The one thing I wasn’t sure about was Ben Scwartz as Rudy, the man who sells drugs to Zu. He is a confusing character and I annoyingly have mixed feelings about whether or not I think he’s funny or just really weird. I feel as though his presence wasn’t needed, unless he had been either serious and cruel (adding to the film’s necessary drama) or more funny (adding to the slight comedy effect of the film). Either way, there’s a big question mark next to his character.
Despite the film’s controversy, I think the film overall was a beautiful piece of art, and a great accomplishment for a first time director.
Signature Entertainment presents Music available from 15 February 2021