Music review – Sia's tone-deaf treatment of autism

In the singer-songwriter’s simplistic directorial debut, a cartoonish portrayal of autism clashes with a tale of addiction

For many years, Australian pop star Sia has hidden behind a fringe that covers her eyes. Using actors instead of starring in her own music videos, she has preferred not to centre herself. Yet her directorial debut appears to draw from her own experiences with addiction; its protagonist Zu (a near-bald Kate Hudson) is a recovering alcoholic. This is confusing, given that the film’s title refers to her non-speaking, neurodivergent younger sister Music (Maddie Ziegler), whose main purpose is to absolve Zu from her troubled past.

Ziegler, who appeared on the reality TV show Dance Moms, and features in some of Sia’s best-known videos (including Chandelier and Elastic Heart), is not herself on the autistic spectrum. It’s a problem, especially given the cartoonishness of her portrayal, which sees her gurning, grimacing and mumbling through her scenes. Music uses an augmentative and alternative communication device to translate rudimentary expressions such as “I am happy” and “I am sad”. Her interior world is just as simplistic, conveyed via goofy musical interludes rendered in childlike primary colours and abstract shapes. The lyrics, jaunty platitudes about Music’s “magic mind” and failing body, are offensive too. These self-consciously upbeat moments clash horribly with the wider redemption narrative.

  • Available on multiple VOD platforms from 15 February

Watch a trailer for Music


Simran Hans

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Sia: Music review – so-so soundtrack to the controversial film
The star-studded album from her film about autism should be safer ground for Sia, but even here there are pitfalls

Kitty Empire

14, Feb, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Green Book review – racially tone-deaf
Mahershala Ali’s performance shines through despite ill-judged moments from director Peter Farrelly

Wendy Ide

03, Feb, 2019 @4:56 PM

Article image
Music review – Sia’s controversial film about autism lacks coherence and authenticity
The pop star’s directorial debut is a hodge-podge of giddy numbers and narrative tropes, and its star, Maddie Ziegler, lacks credibility

Luke Buckmaster

20, Jan, 2021 @2:17 AM

Article image
Blinded by the Light review – growing up with the Boss
An 80s Asian-British channels Bruce Springsteen in Gurinder Chadha’s buoyant but uneven crowd-pleaser

Simran Hans

11, Aug, 2019 @7:00 AM

Article image
Casablanca Beats review – Morocco’s vibrant school of hip-hop
Nabil Ayouch’s grittily authentic tale of a rapper turned teacher helping his students find their creative voices is a class act

Mark Kermode, Observer film critic

01, May, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
Sia's film Music misrepresents autistic people. It could also do us damage
Autistic people are used to being underestimated and infantilised – but for Clem Bastow it was still a shock to see it on the big screen

Clem Bastow

26, Jan, 2021 @4:30 PM

Article image
Sia apologises over autism depiction in her movie Music
Musician’s Golden Globe-nominated directorial debut, which stars Kate Hudson as guardian to an autistic sister, angered autism rights activists with scenes of restraint

Catherine Shoard

04, Feb, 2021 @10:52 AM

Article image
La La Land; Manchester By the Sea; Graduation and more – review
Damien Chazelle’s sun-drenched musical is even lovelier on second viewing, while Casey Affleck’s janitor evokes Brando

Guy Lodge

14, May, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
Sing Street; Midnight Special; Dheepan; Tale of Tales and others – review
The 80s reign again in a lovable high-school musical and a skin-prickling sci-fi chase, while Jacques Audiard’s Palme D’Or winner tells of Tamil refugees in Paris

Guy Lodge

07, Aug, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
Hearts Beat Loud review – by numbers family musical
Father and daughter bond over pre-college songwriting in perky, but ultimately annoying fashion

Wendy Ide

05, Aug, 2018 @5:59 AM