Maddie Ziegler, a neurotypical artist, stars as Music, an autistic orphan whose mother is a drug addict and whose grandmother recently died. Ziegler spends most of the filming time of the film with a blissful smile on his face, playing music on his headphones and mind-blowing fantasy dance numbers that unsurprisingly sound like a video of Sia (warehouse / soundstage; theatrical lighting effects including silhouettes; choppy cut; minimal sets and decorations and school playful-looking costumes; flat painted backgrounds but in bright colors, etc.).
The main caretaker of music is her big sister Zu (Kate Hudson, beaming with hard-earned wisdom and rocking a buzz cut), a former drug addict struggling early in her recovery. She’s a tough midwife banging the heavy bag in a gym and handing out pills to the side. The improvised safety net under Music also includes Héctor Elizondo as George, the caretaker of Music and Zu’s apartment complex, and Leslie Odom, Jr. as an immigrant who is unfortunately defined primarily by his holiness and his unfailing emotional support to the sisters.
Questions. So many questions. Starting with: is music a big fan of Sia? Is this why her fantasies look and resemble Sia’s videos? Is she secretly a choreographer and composer who models herself on Sia? Are his fully realized musical fantasies the product of brilliant observation and emulation by a gifted amateur, such as the scene in “Rain Man” where Dustin Hoffman’s character first visits Vegas and cleans up? the casino?
We might also ask ourselves: does anyone in Music’s orbit understand what she’s going through? It doesn’t look like it. Sometimes the world gets too much for the music and she loses her temper and turns away, and it’s at this point that another character comes in and physically restrains her or sits / lies on top of her, which, according to groups and individuals with autism who have challenged this project, is not an accepted way to handle such situations, to put it mildly. (Sia already has excuse to members of the autistic community for misrepresenting or offending them, and has promised to remove the restraining scenes, although the version this reviewer has projected still contains more than one.)