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‘Music’: Sia’s awful movie portrays autism with grating, candy-colored musical numbers

Kate Hudson stars as the caretaker for her sister on the spectrum (Maddie Ziegler) in a manipulative dance through drug addiction, abuse and other tragedies.

Zu (Kate Hudson, left) and her little sister (Maddie Ziegler) perform one of the many fantasy musical numbers in “Music.”
Vertical Entertainment

The worst moment in the jaw-dropping train wreck that is “Music” is the pink-coated fantasy musical number that plays like Cirque du Soleil doing a commercial for Pepto-Bismol.

Wait, the worst moment in “Music” is when Kate Hudson’s Zu wants to dump her half-sister Music (yes, her name is Music) at a mental health facility, and the following exchange occurs:

Zu: “Do you guys do pickup?”

Receptionist: “Pickup, you mean like a laundry service? No, we don’t do that.”

Hold on. The worst moment in “Music” is the quick-cut, frenetic, orange-tinted fantasy musical number when the title character flails about making exaggerated facial and body contortions that would embarrass the worst mime ever to work a city street corner.

Ah, no need to argue or debate. They’re ALL terrible moments — and there are so many more — in this well-intentioned but woefully executed directing/co-writing feature debut by the Australian pop sensation Sia, who compounds the problem by making one of the most tone-deaf and grating celebrity cameos in recent cinema history.

When “Music” picked up Golden Globe nominations for best picture musical/comedy and for Kate Hudson’s performance, I think it’s safe to say the typical reaction was along the lines of: Oh Kate Hudson, I like her, we haven’t seen much of her lately, followed by, What the heck is this movie called “Music?” Filmed in 2017, “Music” first generated controversy when it was learned neurotypical actor Maddie Ziegler (who has starred in many of Sia’s videos) was cast as the lead character, a teenage girl on the far end of the non-verbal autism spectrum. Sia’s initial responses to her critics were inelegant at best, and then the controversy seemed to fade away along with the movie, which is just now seeing the light of day in the States.

We were better off in the dark.

Ziegler employs a mere handful of facial expressions and verbal tics to play Music in the real world and goes way over the top and all the way to the moon in the ambitious and colorful but grating musical numbers. (It’s as if she’s doing variations on moves she’s employed in several of the aforementioned music videos.) It always feels like a sincere but superficial performance rather than a fully formed and richly empathetic portrayal. Interspersed between the 10 original music numbers, we get a putatively gritty and heart-tugging storyline that encompasses so many serious issues, from autism to alcoholism to drug addiction to AIDS to parental abuse to death itself, it’s a like a Tragedy Movie Checklist. Manipulation is the driving force behind many a scene.

The main storyline focuses on Hudson’s Zu as a newly sober drug dealer who is the surviving family caregiver for her half-sister Music after their grandmother (Mary Kay Place) drops dead on the kitchen floor, remaining there until Hector Elizondo as the obligatory kindly neighbor discovers her. Zu is an addict who can barely take care of herself, as she keeps telling everyone — though she looks awfully good with her ripped abs and Beverly Hills-quality dental work, but hey, this is not a movie big on realism.

The wonderful Leslie Odom Jr. does all he can with a clichéd role as the caring neighbor Ebo, and there are moments of genuine tender chemistry between Hudson and Odom — but then it’s time for another candy-colored musical number, where much attention is given to production design and choreography, and Sia’s music is catchy but repetitive, and it’s a whole lot of noise carrying a mere whisper of an impact.