MUSIC

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Sia

Stars: Kate Hudson, Maddie Ziegler, Leslie Odom jr, Hector Elizondo, Beto Calvillo, Juliette Lewis, Henry Rollins, Mary Kay Place, Tig Notaro .

This ambitious and well-meaning but flawed film is the film directorial debut of Grammy award winning Australian singer Sia, who has sold several million records and topped the charts both here and in the US. Based on a short story that she wrote in 2007 Music explores some important themes of family, togetherness, tolerance, community.

Kate Hudson is almost unrecognisable here with her buzzcut hairdo. She plays Zu, a free-spirited drug dealer and recovering alcoholic who finds herself thrust into the position of having to care for her autistic younger half-sister Music (newcomer Maddie Ziegler) following the sudden death of their grandmother. She is not really prepared for the challenges of caring for the girl who is set in her routine and she initially struggles. She receives some assistance from Ebo (Tony award winning theatre actor Leslie Odom jr, from the musical Hamilton, etc), a friendly neighbour who lives in an adjoining apartment, and who has a keen understanding of Music’s unique personality. And then there is George (Hector Elizondo, from Pretty Woman, etc), the building’s landlord and handyman, and sweet natured local boy Felix (Beto Calvillo), who has also watched over Music during her daily walks through the neighbourhood. The responsibility though eventually helps Zu to sort out her own problems and put her troubled life into order.

However, the drama is often interrupted by a number of hypercolouful, superbly choreographed but bizarre fantasy musical numbers that were created especially for the film. These songs, written and performed by Sia, give us some insights into Music’s unique perspective, her emotional state and her alternative reality. But they are pretty forgettable, and the film at times seems like an extended musical video promotional tool. The colourful musical numbers have been choreographed by Sia’s frequent collaborator Ryan Heffington and shot by cinematographer Sebastian Wintero, (the quirky Kajillionaire, etc) a veteran of music videos having worked with the likes of Sia, Lady Gaga and U2. He eschews the usual hyperkinetic style of most music videos for a more traditional form of longer takes and tracking shots. Sia and Wintero also give us a strong sense of the local LA neighbourhood that is home to Music.

The film itself has been largely overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the casting of Ziegler, a non-autistic actor, in the title role. The role seems to have been written especially for Zeigler, who has appeared in many of the music videos for Sia. Here she delivers a superbly nuanced performance that captures many of the mannerisms of an autistic person and seems authentic. Hudson, in her first film appearance since Marshall three years ago, gives one of her best performances as the flawed, selfish Zu, and reminds us that she is a fine dramatic actress when she moves away from light romantic comedies. Odom is good as the generous and sympathetic Ebo, who has a few skeletons in his closet, while Elizondo is sympathetic as George. There are cameos from Juliette Lewis, Henry Rollins, Mary Kay Place and Tig Notaro.

This quirky mix of offbeat musical and drama is something of a misfire that will not appeal to everybody.

★★☆

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