Written by: Sam Levinson
Starring: Zendaya & John David Washington
Relationships work as a harmonious unit where both facets remain necessary to properly function and while things may get messy, as long as the love remains, so does the chance for survival. The love and hate rear their ugly heads many times throughout Malcolm & Marie and even with its nave-gazy moments, it all forms around one couple and their struggles. When focusing on them, the film absolutely shines and allows for a valuable introspection of two individuals.
Returning from a film premiere, Malcolm (John David Washington) and Marie (Zendaya) arrive home and begin a discussion about how they feel. As they prepare a snack and prepare for bed, they continually argue about different aspects of the film industry and more importantly, how it fits into their relationship.
Coming out taking no prisoners, Malcolm & Marie unapologetically takes aim at the very ecosystem where it would hope to thrive. The equivalent of dropping a grenade in an enclosed space and then running away, this feature speaks on so much of the current landscape of film criticism along with being a dialogue-heavy relationship drama. These two components continually battle each other for narrative dominance, which makes the film messy in a sense but I would argue it’s all part of the point. Coming into this viewing experience as a married man, I recognize what these arguments look like and while the ones with my wife go nowhere near the lengths of this film, it remains recognizable. Arguments or even vent sessions look much like what gets depicted in this film where the same points get reiterated and expanded for more effect or another point to add just popped into their head. Does it always make for the strongest concept for a feature film? Not really but it allows the dialogue occurring here to feel like two real people speaking to each other in an unpolished manner.
The way the screenplay directly takes aim at film critics pretty much guaranteed this would not receive a warm reception and to state out front, there are problems with a white writer/director in Sam Levinson speaking his grievances through a Black actor like John David Washington. Especially when it turns to Malcolm, a black director, complaining particularly about white critics and the way they try too hard to be woke. Problematic indeed but the content being spoken carries plenty of weight and truth, which contributes to the vitriol this film will and has already received. As someone who reviews films, I try to find the deeper meaning in the stories but sometimes the director’s intentions were simply making a straightforward picture. The ranty monologues he goes on decrying critics and their tactics comes from a real criticism that should be taken to heart.
However, by far, the greatest aspect of this film comes from these two actors showing exactly why they are rising stars within the industry. Coming straight off of her Emmy win, Zendaya demonstrates her incredible ability as an actor in the way she conveys so much by showing so little. On the many occasions where Malcolm goes on his rants, everything Zendaya does through Marie remains so much more captivating. Whether it be her body language or the faces she makes, she commands the screen, which does not take away from the exceptional work done by John David Washington. He has suddenly jumped onto the scene as of 2018 where he made a name for himself starring in Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman and he seemingly improves with every new outing. His work as Malcolm asks so much from him in how unlikeable he can be while still making strong points. His work feels over-the-top but it all fits who this man purports to be from the very beginning. He’s not the greatest guy in the world and the way Washington delivers his monologues shows he is here to stay.
Watching a film in black and white feels like a deserved treat we receive a couple of times a year and cinematographer Marcell Rév creates stunning visuals in how he utilizes both the actors and the house. Some shots, including one with Zendaya lying in a bathtub with only her head above water, still have not left my mind. It pairs so well with the house chosen to capture this film. It feels modern, a bit empty, and just obscenely large at times, which can adequately describe the relationship of these two as they navigate through this night of rants and belittling. It truly sets the stage and allows them to go off.
Many will be turned off by this film, which falls within their rights, but Malcolm & Marie will click with anyone who has been in a serious relationship. Sure, the hurtful things these two say to each other may cross the line but it remains their relationship and we’re here for the ride. Neither of them comes out looking their greatest from it but they both make excellent points about how art and the film industry correlates to their relationship. As messy as it is, at the very least the film captures these arguments authentically.