Directed By Sia
Starring – Kate Hudson, Leslie Odom Jr, Maddie Ziegler
The Plot – Zu (Hudson) is newly sober and finding her way in the world when she receives news that she is to become the sole guardian of her half-sister named Music (Ziegler), a young girl on the autism spectrum. The film explores the ideals of finding your voice and what it means to create a family.
Rated PG-13 for thematic content, drug material, brief violence and strong adult language
– Fantasy sequences. Whether the post-production additions involving musical sequences were needed or not to increase the integrity and run time of the film, they are undoubtedly the single best aspect to what it has to offer. These sequences are not only uniquely illustrated as an insight into the mind of our autistic protagonist, but they also cement the ideal that everyone of every make and model share a bond in connection to the language of music that we can all colorfully interpret. The set designs and lavish color coordination preserves a vibrancy to the fantastical imagery that makes this indulgence all the more surreal, and the seamless consistency of the dancing choreography feels heavily influenced by the emotional dynamic in song and previous scene that it accompanies. It feeds heavily into the expressionist dance scene that has been responsible for Sia’s secondary career resurgence, all the while cementing the theory that this idea would’ve worked much better for a concept album or long-handed music video that let the music do the talking.
– Collective soundtrack. While there are a few songs that are lyrically a bit heavy-handed in terms of their thematic purpose, I would be lying if I said they weren’t effective in channeling the same uniqueness as an artistic visionary that Sia has taken through a career of top 40 favorites. Respect to not using any of those familiar tracks, as they would serve as a distraction to the intimacy and context of this particular titular character, but even more credit to the ones chosen attaining a simplistic clarity that any viewer can coherently interpret. No track overstays its welcome, nor feels repetitive in track tempo, serving as vital individual ingredients on the way to a bigger character outline that the linear narrative of storytelling never spends time getting to know. It makes for a mostly light-hearted, fluffy engagement that embodies the spirit of the character, and shows us above all else Sia is a better entertainer than film director.
– Strange framing. Instead of this being a movie surrounding Music’s character, with the possibility of breaking down untrue stigma’s against the autistic community, the film instead chooses to make this about Zu, and what a burden that Music is to her life. This outlines the movie with an insensitive encompassing that rubs off on its many characters, dialogue, and direction, creating many uncomfortable instances where I couldn’t help but laugh at how appalling Sia’s perception of these gifted people truly is. As someone who is the guardian for an autistic brother, I can say that nothing about the film feels honest or genuine even on accident, and the decision not to invest even an ample amount of time toward the title character is one that dramatically compromises any chance that this film had at making itself original, or remotely winning my heart over. Classless to its core.
– Frustrating performance. The work of Hudson and Odom are certainly nothing special when asked to shoulder the burden of Sia’s inexperience behind the pen, but the direction of Ziegler as an autistic teenager is not only my least favorite performance of the year, but one that should’ve been halted by even one of the hundreds of crew members working on this, for how it comes across uncomfortable. I don’t fault Sia or even Ziegler for the decision to cast someone unaffected by autism if the homework is properly done, but the latter’s turn as Music feels very much like a tasteless parody that is neither authentic or even remotely endearing in its depiction. It’s so loudly overbearing and unnaturally articulated that it never allows Ziegler to immerse herself wholeheartedly into the role, and in a world where cancel culture is all the craze, should be the first thing at the top of that list.
– Technical hiccups. Adding to the already problematic chaos that is the movie’s screenplay are an abundance of technical issues left in the finished product that speak volumes to the amateur sense of production scattered throughout nearly every angle. It begins with the single worst audio deposits in post production that I have ever seen, and somehow made even worse when you realize they were rendered for one specific Asian character. The dialogue doesn’t match even remotely with what his lips are mouthing, and the volume in mixing intensifies and lowers twice over the course of a five second line read. In addition to the chalky A.D.R, there’s a major blunder in storyline continuity that continuously broke what little investment I had left by the movie’s third act. A certain character gets their nose broken after an event goes wrong, complete with ample blood and bruising that is effectively rendered by the make-up department. The problem comes in the very next scene, when not only has the nose healed, but there appears to be no sign of anything previously established in the prior scene. Clearly something supernatural at foot here.
– Dangerously uninformed. I hate frequently calling out Sia for a film she labeled a supposed “Passion project”, but the level of incompetence for failing to understand even the single easiest aspect of autistics is shocking. If I’m pointing to a single one after an argument in my mind, and several shots of whiskey, I look towards a physical conflict where Music has a panic attack, and a grown man holds her down and sits on top of her to comfort her. In the real world, this could cause major injury or even death if too much weight compresses their air passage, so to recommend it in a film that millions will watch is irresponsible to say the least. This is the kind of reason why studios will hire experts in the area; to attain credible believability in the realm of its subject matter. Failing to do so only magnifies the lack of knowledge from within, dooming the picture not only for a lack of entertainment factor, but also for a lack of moral compass that is alarmingly uncompassionate.
– Agony on the ears. If I could point to one aspect of the film that gives Ziegler’s portrayal of Music a run for its money in terms of residual suffering, it would definitely be from the heavy-handed dialogue, which resides somewhere between revolting and painful. Actually, I can’t fault this section too much, as it was the most fun I had with the film, after several instances of unintended humor that stemmed from poor timing within the context of the scenes they accompanied. Such an instance takes place between Hudson and Odom’s characters, after Odom smothered Music to calm with his 200 pound frame. Hudson asks him where he learned that technique, and he explains with his little brother who was also autistic. She then asks where her brother is now, and he replies “Oh, he’s dead”. What tops even that, however, is conversation between Hudson and Music, where the former asks “Can you get all of your fits out of the way now, before we go in there?”. You guys can play your Hallmark cards all you want for emotional resonance, but the compassion of this tender sentiment simply can’t be smothered between a $4 envelope. Purely magical.
– Bland characters. A compromising disconnect between these conflicts and emotional emptiness exists because of a complete lack of illustration between characters, which arguably grants them one distinguishable arc between the three main characters. This is with Hudson’s Zu, whom we’re told very little about before to fully illustrate what she’s “Giving up” in taking custody of Music, so therefore one we’ve already undercut from start to finish to spot the evidence in her supposed transformation. From there, she’s a constant trainwreck of irresponsibility and insensitivities that never appeal to the empathy of her character, and made me constantly ask why we’re spending so much time with her in the first place. Beyond Zu, Music is nothing but background noise towards being an inconvenience to other characters, whenever the film asks her to be. Odom’s Ebo is a nice enough guy, but some uninspired decisions with his character during the end of the second act made his black savior all the less solidified in the scope of his importance to this family. There are also several supporting characters who we vaguely meet along the way, and spend a scene or two with despite learning nothing about them. A fellow autistic Asian character is frequently brought to the forefront, and then given nothing of substance to flesh out his characterization. It’s nearly two hours with a room of strangers whom the movie asks us to constantly engage and empathize with.
– Painful presentation. When the mental pain of the screenplay translates to a physical capacity in visual flare, you’ve attained a rare level of dread that very few films can reach. This is in the form of sensory lighting during the dance sequences that will make for a problematic sit for autistic and other visually sensitive audiences. The sequences themselves are something that I mentioned as a positive above, but the lighting within them feels so unnecessarily enhanced to accentuate the theatrics from within, a problem that distorts the initial vantage point of taking place from the mind of an autistic captor. So to summarize, this is a film so bad that it quite possibly could induce seizures to the very figures it depicts, making it difficult for any of them to sit through it. Who was this movie made for again?
My Grade: 2/10 or F-