Superstar singer/songwriter Sia makes her directorial debut with Music, a musical-drama film with powerful themes that features a disjointed narrative, making it hard for the audience to connect with its characters.
Maddie Ziegler plays Music, a teenager on the autism spectrum who is ultra-sensitive to sound and has trouble navigating her day-to-day life. Her mother takes care of her and helps to structure her life with a daily routine that also includes the help of some of the local residents. When her mother passes, Music is left in the care of her half-sister, Zu (Kate Hudson), a recovering alcoholic drug-dealer who soon realizes she’s in over her head. In comes their neighbor, Ebo (Leslie Odom Jr. of Hamilton fame), who while dealing with his own personal problems, becomes a friend, and love interest to Zu as he helps her cope with her newfound responsibilities.
The film starts off wanting its audience to connect and sympathize with Music and her condition and then shifts the focus to each new character that enters the picture. Zu has several problems of her own, then the true extent of Ebo’s shocking background is revealed before shifting across to neighborhood kid Felix (Beto Calvillo) and his sad journey, each story coming together in the end with some form of closure. In the meantime, it feels as though Music’s story gets lost in the mix, and she ends up serving as the glue that binds all these characters together. It’s a clever way of telling the story, but it suffers each time the narrative is paused for some song and dance.
The film features around ten new original songs from Sia thrown into the narrative to break up some of the story beats. The songs are fine, creative, and catchy, and will appeal to Sia’s fans and pop-music lovers. They’re vibrant, colorful, and the choreography is unique. Sia has never had any problems in the music, dance, or art direction department in her career, but in Music, her songs seem to pull the audience out of the film, rather than immerse them more into it. This is a problem as there are some touching moments in the film, but they’re hard to absorb as the added musical set-pieces reduce the impact.
Each character has their own plight and issues to deal with, though they’re not all sympathetic. For example, Zu is harder to feel sorry for than Ebo, due to a lack of character development, and Ebo less so than Felix. It depends on who’s watching, and how (or if) they can relate to any of these characters. Sia tries to cover a diverse range of issues with these characters to appeal to a wide audience, but in the end, there is a lack of focus which delivers less of an emotional effect.
While there are some problems with the film’s narrative, Music does have some high points. The acting, cinematography, production design, and soundtrack are excellent. Music may have worked better as a drama film rather than a musical-drama concept, though nevertheless, Sia can be commended in her effort to transition from singing and songwriting to screenwriting and directing, a role switch that isn’t easy, and Music serves as a good learning experience should she decide to continue her career behind the camera.
Was originally written as a non-musical drama, Sia chose to write music for the film when producers offered her an additional $10,000,000 for production to do so.