Australian pop star Sia, who takes off her iconic black-and-white wig and goes behind the camera, delivers her feature directorial debut “Music.” Following up with her music video muse/avatar Maddie Ziegler, the musical drama is about the struggling of an unusual family and the healing power of music.

Recovering alcohol and drug addict Zu (Kate Hudson) reunites with her half-sister Music (played by Ziegler. And yes, the girl is literally named Music) after the accidental death of her grandmother. While Zu finds difficulty in taking care of her autistic sister, who always escapes herself into a fantasy musical world features Sia’s music, their kind neighbor Ebo (Leslie Odom Jr) steps in to offer his generous help.

From last year when the film is announced to be released, “Music” has generated controversies from its story, logline, and casting of Ziegler for an autistic teenage girl. Sia fired back the criticisms on Twitter and asked people to watch the film before judging it. But when an autistic actor spoke out about the difficulty in their careers as the roles often go to actors not on the spectrum, Sia responded “maybe you’re just a bad actor.”

Sia also defended herself by pointing out she hired autistic consultants on set, and that she did her best to cast someone closer to the character’s degree of autism but found that no one could handle the demands of the choreography. And recently, after several offending and inaccurate representative scenes had been pointed out by critics, Sia promised to cut off these scenes in the released version (though the scenes still exist in the screening version I received a few weeks ago). The controversies and the moral flaw around “Music” might divert our attention, but I cannot ignore its fundamental problem: it’s simply a misfire on the cinematic level. 

Sia’s songwriting and her skill of musical numbers are eye-popping, but her direction, even colorful and well-choreographed, is just poor and lacks sensitivity. It seems like she can’t figure out the artistic style difference between film and music video. Her past music videos “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart” are masterful and brought out the best of Ziegler with her emotion and body language, however, in “Music,” the young talented dancer is apparently unable to handle the performance in a feature-length narration.

Starts from the beginning, “Music” is asking the audience to root for these characters – Music’s autism, Zu’s addictions, and Edo’s heartbreaking backstory as an immigrant from Africa – but fails to make their struggles compelling to watch. The story and characters then become forgettable and underdeveloped, and don’t even mention Sia has a brief, distracting cameo at the end of the film where she presents herself as a humanitarian (seriously?), which is bizarrely functioned as a self-serving scene for Sia herself.

“Music” received two Golden Globes nominations weeks ago for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for Hudson, which can be the lifeboat after the film got so many pans lately on social media. But I’m sure people who go to the film just because of the Golden Globe nominations will find out how bad it really is, and realize it’s just a promotion for Sia’s latest album (or motion picture soundtrack) by putting the album’s music videos together disjointly. Why do we even call it “a film?”

GRADE: D

Contact me at jiajinpin@gmail.com.  Follow social at @jjpin

  • Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
  • Production: Landay Entertainment, Atlantic Films, Crush Pictures, Pineapple Lasagne Productions, and Warner Music Entertainment
  • Director: Sia
  • Writer: Sia and Dallas Clayton
  • Producer: Vincent Landay and Sia
  • Cast: Maddie Ziegler, Kate Hudson, Leslie Odom Jr., Mary Kay Place, and Hector Elizondo
  • “Music” released in IMAX theaters Feb 10 and onDemand Feb 12, 2021

Read the review in Chinese

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