In Sam Levinson’s 2021 Netflix original, Malcolm and Marie, a couple who have just returned from a movie premiere await critics’ responses. Starring Zendaya and John David Washington, the night suddenly takes a turn as revelations about the couples relationship emerges as arguments and emotions boil to the surface, testing the power of their love.
If you were to take the argument scenes from other relationship movies like ‘Marriage Story’ and Linklater’s ‘Before Midnight’ but make those yelling scenes the entire movie, you have Malcom & Marie. The film is 106 minutes spent in a single location, shot in gorgeous black and white cinematography with two attractive actors giving it their all in their performances. That’s unfortunately the extent of what makes the film actually worth watching as the main element and driving force of the film falter heavily.
That main element being the script, as the entire film heavily relies on the power of the dialogue and the direction to keep viewers engaged throughout its runtime. Sam Levinson wrote and directed the film and what he ultimately doesn’t succeed at is making these characters more than just mouthpieces for his own personal opinions and ego. A lot of the conversations that the couple has with each other are regarding creative ambition, film criticism and their views on love and this relationship. These are fascinating topics to explore, but the film does it so heavy-handedly without actually letting the audience first care about these characters.
Both Malcolm and Marie are simply puppets for Levinson to spew out his own personal life on the screen rather than actually focusing on why this couple is so dysfunctional and why they still fight for this relationship. It’s an unfortunate example of a director sloppily inserting himself into a messy narrative. When it does try and give these characters a backstory and humanity, it’s very surface level and is drowned out by constant back and forth intense screaming, then intimate loving, then going back to intense screaming once more. It’s exhausting and repetitive and the audience is simply burned out by the end of it.
There are things to appreciate about the film. The cinematography is gorgeous in black and white photography, although it more feels like an added style rather than serving an actual purpose to the plot or themes. John David Washington and Zendaya do a lot of the heavy lifting through their commanding performances. It does show further proof on why they are becoming big names in the industry.
The film gained attention due to the creative talent involved. Levinson and Zendaya are known for their collaborative work on the popular teen show ‘Euphoria’. It was written and filmed during the early days of the pandemic and was one of the first films ever completed and produced in Hollywood during that time. It is a testament to the determination and creative drive of these creatives and the two leads do a really great job, if only they were paired with a better script and final product of a film.
‘Malcolm & Marie’ released on February 5, 2021 and is available to stream on Netflix.