When I first got wind about this Malcolm & Marie, starring two bright stars in Hollywood right now in John David Washington and Zendaya, I was immediately interested. Filmed in secret during the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought it would be an old-school love story that would harken back to the romantic drama films of years past.
Despite the beautiful black and white color palette, what I got was something entirely different.
Film director Malcolm Elliott (John David Washington) returns home from his film premiere with his girlfriend, Marie Jones (Zendaya). Their relationship is tested when they discuss the film and their lives together.
John David Washington and Zendaya are certainly not the quintessential “happy couple”; that is apparent from the time they arrive home from the film premiere and you can sense the tension from there. As the film moves along, it becomes obvious that we aren’t really supposed to care about what happens between these two characters, who are deep down not happy with one another. Their on and off arguments is what grabs your attention as scathing unspoken words leave deep cuts on both characters. Because they are the only characters we see on screen, we have little distraction from them confronting their long-simmering issues. Like the late night meal that Marie was making for her film director boyfriend, the pot had finally boiled over.
From conversations about the film industry and how a black director is looked and criticized at times to the deep relationship talks in which past mistakes and faults are used as ammunition, I was not fully behind them being together. I honestly had a hard time wondering why they still were. Is it because they know their own faults but also aware that the best person to handle them is laying beside them? Under the resentment and tension, fueled by unspoken anger that was finally shouted into the air of their open home, Malcolm and Marie needed each other in a way. With my own personal past relationships, I wouldn’t have minded if they just broke up. I was thinking “Why are these two even together if they are this way with one another?” But as I continued through the one hour and forty-six minute runtime, I realized that the couple shouldn’t be my focus.
The simple premise of a film should leave it open for powerful acting performances and wonderful dialogue, which is where this film majorly delivers. As a writer, I appreciate strong lines that allows the actors to live in the skin of their characters. This is where the film is at its strongest and sinks its teeth into the viewer to take them on an unexpected ride. John David Washington, who needed a rebound from Tenet, did some amazing leading man work. There was a time where he was channeling his father and I finally saw in him what I’ve seen in other projects such as BlackkKlansman and Ballers: that energy and fire that his father has brought to every role in his long career. My biggest concern was seeing if Zendaya, currently of the MCU fame with the Spider-Man franchise, could handle and excel in an adult role. While she didn’t knock it out of the park, she proved to me that she is well on her way. The spirited exchange and chemistry between the two power this film because the screen play is not really the best.
Writer-director Sam Levinson, who also created the Zendaya-led teen drama Euphoria, wrote this film in around three days. While he gives his stars equal time to speak their minds and from their hearts, balancing it out, Levinson does appear showy and personal in the dialogue the characters are speaking, particularly about the current state of Hollywood. The shift in power and control between Malcolm and Marie makes the film an interesting commentary about love and relationships but feels clouded by unfulfilled ambitions of its creator.
What are your thoughts on Malcolm & Marie? Do you like the idea of more intimate films such as this coming out as the entertainment business slowly recovers from the epidemic?
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One thought on “‘Malcolm and Marie’ is not a love story, but an unsettling commentary on love.”
I was largely disappointed with this movie, the final edit. Though, I have no issue with the performances.
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