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Award-season is finally upon us in the cinematic world, and even though the ceremonies will look much different than they have in the past, I am still looking forward to celebrating the outstanding achievements from this complicated year in film.Though there are always going to be question marks surrounding certain nominees, mainly in the form of unfathomable snubs (Delroy Lindo not receiving a Golden Globe nomination for his electric performance in DA 5 BLOODS, for example), I’m not sure that I have ever been more puzzled by a nominee than I am right now. For reasons I can’t possibly begin to comprehend, MUSIC, which was written, directed, and produced by Sia, received Golden Globe nominations for Best Film (Comedy or Musical) and Best Actress (Comedy or Musical.)

If you haven’t heard of MUSIC yet, rest assured that it is, at best, a tragically misguided and woefully puzzling attempt to explore the complexities of a young girl with autism. At its worst, it is an unwatchable, offensive, and unfathomably awful piece of filmmaking that is, quite honestly, one of the worst movies I have ever seen.

MUSIC has been a source of controversy from its inception. Sia, the popular singer/songwriter who has dazzled audiences with her beautiful music videos “Chandelier”, “Elastic Heart,” and “Born Yesterday”, set out to tell the story of Music (played by Sia’s muse and artistic stand-in Maddie Ziegler) a young girl afflicted with autism who sees the world and internalizes her feelings in the form of elaborate song and dance. Unable to communicate verbally, her mind processes emotions and thoughts as sugary, brightly lit, carefully choreographed dance sequences.

Much of the controversy surrounding MUSIC was the choice to have a neurotypical performer, Ziegler, in the title role. The failure of this feature cannot be laid at the feet of Ziegler, who, starring in her first major role, executes her motions as directed. Unfortunately, this film, allegedly, is about inclusion and acceptance, yet fails to feature the very individuals that the production is meant to celebrate. Furthermore, a central plot point revolves around restraining of Music when she becomes agitated, which caused such an outcry within the autism community that Sia pledged to have these sequences removed, yet as this article goes to print, the scenes are still included in the version currently streaming on Amazon. Sia has attempted to justify these mystifyingly misguided decisions in multiple interviews, yet has done far more harm than good. Her attempt to defuse the controversies surrounding the project has been a lesson in how NOT to handle a crisis, from offering haphazard explanations in her casting decisions to deleting her social media accounts, it has been a complete disaster at every turn.

Controversies aside, MUSIC is a confounding, incoherent mess of a movie that wastes the considerable talents at its disposal. Music (Ziegler) lives with her grandmother, Millie (Mary Kay Place) in an apartment in New York City. Millie has set up a routine that allows for Music to experience freedoms in the form of walks and trips to the library. There are many folks in the neighborhood that pitch in and follow her throughout her journey, ensuring her safety and comfort. When her grandmother dies, Music’s quirky, drug-dealing sister Zu (Golden Globe nominee Kate Hudson) shows up to get in on the inheritance. Instead, she becomes the reluctant guardian of her sister. Largely unable to cope with her own life, let alone taking care of someone else, Zu forges a relationship with Ebo (Leslie Odom) a former boxer who already has an established bond with the young girl.

There are a number of other confounding subplots that come and go without any type of reasoning, and through it all, there are the song and dance sequences previously referenced. Though these are just as baffling as the scenes surrounding them, due to Ziegler’s immense talent and Sia’s unique vision, they offer brief respite from the forced and faulty drama that comprises this ill-conceived story. There is no denying Ziegler’s talent, and these moments allow her to shine. Unfortunately, they do little to tackle the complexities of autism, and even seem to belittle the plight of those afflicted. It’s as if Music is being “healed” by the power of song and dance, though the film had given up exploring her as a person long ago. Despite the title, the movie ends up being much more about Zu and her struggles with addiction and crime, forcing Music to become a supporting character in her own film.

I truly believe that Sia had good intentions when taking on this passion project, and though I’m not sure how well the final product mirrored her original vision, I have a hard time believing this was the result she had been yearning for. When the very community she had set out to entertain and enlighten is lambasting the filmmaker for virtually every decision, it’s hard to fathom how MUSIC was ever released, let alone garnered the Golden Globe nominations it certainly didn’t deserve.

(Now streaming on Amazon.)

RUN TIME: 1h 47min
GENRE: Drama, Musical
STARRING: Kate Hudson, Leslie Odom Jr., Maddie Ziegler

Brian Miller