There’s nothing fun about panning a feature by a first-time director, especially when it seems to come from a place of good intentions, but “Music,” a musical fantasy drama about an autistic teen, is bad. Mystifyingly bad. Verging on “What were they thinking?” bad.
Directed by singer/songwriter Sia, from a script that she cowrote with children’s author Dallas Clayton, the film seems to be going for a gritty-yet-also-magical-and-empowering vibe. But it often seems to lack common sense, and that paradoxically makes it feel insincere and hollow even when it’s trying its best to beguile us with its artistry and compassion. If not for its game ensemble cast and a few memorable moments (including a cameo by Juliette Lewis), it should be counted as a disaster.
Maddie Ziegler, a neurotypical performer, stars as Music, an autistic orphan whose mother is a junkie and whose grandmother recently died. Ziegler spends the majority of the film’s running time with a beatific grin on her face, bobbing to music on her headphones, and hallucinating fantasy dance numbers that, unsurprisingly, look like a Sia video (warehouse/soundstage; theatrical lighting effects, including silhouettes; choppy cutting; minimal sets and decorations and school play-looking costumes; flatly painted but brightly colored backdrops, and so on).
Music’s main caretaker is her big sister Zu (Kate Hudson, radiating hard-earned wisdom and rocking a buzz cut), a former substance abuser struggling through the early stage of recovery. She’s a tough wisecracker who hits the heavy bag at a gym and deals pills on the side. The makeshift safety net beneath Music also includes Héctor Elizondo as George, the caretaker of Music and Zu’s apartment complex, and Leslie Odom, Jr. as an immigrant who unfortunately is defined mainly by his saintliness and and unswerving emotional support of the sisters.