Malcolm & Marie
It’s 1am and filmmaker Malcolm (John David Washington) returns home with his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya) from the premiere of his latest work. He’s excitable, slightly drunk and thrilled that the night was a success; she passive-aggressively makes macaroni and cheese, frustrated that he failed to acknowledge her in his speech. An argument inevitably erupts and the night descends into a cycle of vicious disagreements that unveil harsh truths about the couple’s unstable relationship.
Shot in slick monochrome and punctuated by growling saxophones, the film has an aura of coolness about it that instantly draws attention to Marcell Rév’s (who’s collaborated with Sam Levinson on Assassination Nation and Euphoria) eye-catching cinematography. Even more noteworthy than the perfume-ad shots are the powerhouse performances from both Washington and Zendaya, who will undoubtedly be contenders for the awards season. Even when they’re going at each other’s throats, the pair share an unmistakable chemistry. If anything, Malcolm & Marie is a testament to the talent of the two actors.
Everything else, however, is a self-indulgent disaster on a spectacular scale. Levinson’s script has a lot to say on cinema, criticism, racial politics and love, but he never manages to say anything meaningful within any of the various monologues delivered by the players. Throughout the movie, it seems as though the filmmaker is using the male lead’s angry rants as an outlet to vent his own frustrations about the entertainment industry. Confusingly, these points are instantly refuted by Marie, which makes it unclear where Lavinson’s voice lies within these discussions or if these points are intended as nihilistic Socratic dialogues with himself. Whatever the justification for these scenes, though, it doesn’t give them any more substance.
More egregiously, Levinson fails to reach a satisfying conclusion of his exploration of the central relationship, rendering all the arguments, resolutions and sombre reflections irrelevant. Even when the dust of the night has settled, the director feels it necessary to prolong the ending with a vapid montage sequence before arriving at the closing scene. If the viewer has managed to salvage any meaning to the central characters’ turbulent evening, the ending will shatter it. Regardless of the central performances, Malcolm & Marie is nothing short of an exercise in frustration and extravagance that’s unable to justify its own existence.
Malcolm & Marie is released on Netflix on 5th February 2021.
Watch the trailer for Malcolm & Marie here: