Malcolm and Marie

Directed By Sam Levinson

Starring – Zendaya, John David Washington

The Plot – A filmmaker (Washington) returns home with his girlfriend (Zendaya) following a celebratory movie premiere as he awaits what’s sure to be imminent critical and financial success. The evening suddenly takes a turn as revelations about their relationships begin to surface, testing the strength of their love.

Rated R for pervasive language and sexual content

(1) Malcolm & Marie | Official Trailer | Netflix – YouTube


– Serene presentation. If Levinson does one thing right in this film, it’s channeling the inner discontent of this rippling couple with an aesthetic pulse in presentation that brings us some of the best and most challenging cinematography of 2021 early on. Sealing the entirety of the film with a colorless visual pallet, Sam purchases stock in the grey area between their ensuing troubles, which in turn emits a sort of lifeless gaze of emptiness between them that follows them faithfully, regardless of momentary triumphs along the way. On top of this, Levinson and Hungarian cinematographer Marcell Rev stitch together a compilation of assorted angles and challenging camera movements within the heat of the scene to not only give us a foreign cinematic experience similar to what Jean-Luc Godard maintained during his New Wave French filmography during the 60’s, but also to document the two protagonists in a way that shows them continually growing apart in distancing. It really allows the audience the best vantage point for the film and couple’s tonal consistency that remains prominent throughout the film, and conjures up a visual quality that is second to none, despite the limited Covid-influenced production, which kept matters intimately.

– Varying editing. There is anything but consistency to an editing scheme that constantly changes gears to reflect the emotion harvesting in the scene. This is seen most evidently in the opening ten minutes of the movie, where a couple of carefully manipulated long-take compositions bottle as much of the uneasiness and discomfort of the environment without blinking. Likewise, the rest of the film seems equally content in taking its time and waiting for the proper moment to document a reaction from the other side of the relationship coin. Nothing ever feels choreographed to the point its cuts feel predictable, and it’s clear through the formula of the film that the production elicits no shortage of personality that sort of summarizes with a cut everything that we’ve seen in the previous minutes leading up to this temporary resolution. It refuses to settle for one formulaic level of post-production influence, granting us a picture that is every bit patient as it is unconventional for how it forces us to hang on every word.

– Sensational dialogue. This will easily be the biggest disagreement that I get from my readers, but I found the contextual flow of structure and sentences between the two characters to be the sharpest kind of personal that fictional circumstance can embody. In this sense, we are given a lot of backstory exposition, but it’s unavoidable when you consider the kind of secrets that each of these characters keep from the other, piecing together a bigger picture that abbreviates this argument between them as a long time coming in the making. There’s a little bit more vulgarities used than I would prefer, particularly in Zendaya’s brunt usage of a popular four letter word meant to enhance the anger in her disdain, but overall I felt the authentication (A popular word in this film) of the words they were unleashing, especially considering most couples say hurtful things without taking a minute to think about them. It’s very much a film whose interest with audience will depend on the investment they have to the dialogue-heavy formula, but I found myself being drawn to the initial engagements for the calm before the riveting storm that delivers as promised, and outlines a vitriol sense of hatred from the time spent with one another.

– Heavy load. Leave it to two professionals like Zendaya and John David Washington to capture our attention with two riveting performances, and keep it while juggling two complex characters with no shortage of personal problems between them. Zendaya is the show-stealer for me, articulating Marie with an almost bipolar air of dissatisfaction that constantly has her battling the ghosts of a regretful past that she can’t escape in a daily and fictional form of entertainment from her director boyfriend. Zendaya’s frailty is certainly on display, but it was the disgust in facial resonations that she cohesively wore that made it impossible to look away from, cementing her single best performance to date because of such. For Washington, it’s another charismatic turn that made him a breath of fresh air in films like “Tenet” and “Blackkklansman”, but there’s something about Malcolm that feels unleashing for his talents, and helps outline the level of depth for the actor that no other film has to this point. Washington certainly maintains this heavy embodiment that comes from being a polarizing figure in cinema, but beyond that it’s the defense mechanism that stems from various battles that keeps his character feeling anything but satisfied, and whose selfishness is often the catalyst for the war of words that are about to materialize. The chemistry of these two is impeccable, both in a good and lived-in sense, and their commitment to roles gives them a demeanor where they simultaneously love and hate the person they are spending their lives with.

– Prominent setting. “Malcolm and Marie” is entirely a one stage setting, where the entirety of the 101 minutes that follows is contained in, and where this stage works fondly for this particular play is the quality of space that is sometimes documented in claustrophobic enveloping. Being that this is a mansion provided by the studio for the accomplishments of cinematic director Malcolm, it certainly conveys an immensity that would make it easier for these two to escape each other for the night, but what’s unique is that with more time and tighter narrowing shot compositions, the proximity between characters feels diminishing, forcing them to deal with the burden of inevitability that is figuratively eating them whole. This setting also allows for moments of temporary uncertainty, particularly when a character will disappear out of frame, leaving the other one riddled with overwhelming anxiety that all but alludes to what we the audience are unanimously thinking.

– Unique introduction. Further adding to the lack of big screen appeal that many were fearing in a Covid-19 filmmaking world is the overall production, but particularly the opening of the movie, which was not only a faithful homage to classic Hollywood cinema, but also wastes very little time in getting to the meat of the story materializing before our eyes. From the very opening shot, the absence of music in audibly illustrating as much of the quiet of the environment captivates us to the notion of the calm before the storm, but beyond that visually takes us through the abundance of names and titles in the production as quickly as possible, before guiding our attention to the titular couple as they arrive at the scene of the crime. From there, we are treated to 13 minutes of experiences with each of them that vividly paints the picture, and gets us ready for what’s to follow, before flashing the film’s title almost at the end of the entire first act.


– Musical accompaniment. This and everything that follows is where the subtleties and nuances of the story retract, and this wet blanket of obviousness plagues the film with arduous results. It starts with the jazz-influenced musical score from composer Labrinth, which I enjoyed thoroughly, and thought added an air of elegance and class against the suffocating environment we’re constantly intoxicated by. However, it’s the variety of soundtrack selections that weave their way into the couples trysts that created an annoying element to environment, which is every bit heavy as it is reducing to the level of depth in the performances. Succeeding these two professionals taking us through the highs and lows of their relationship, are these familiar tracks of pop culture, which are supposed to illustrate in lyrics what each character is feeling along the way. I not only hate this in other films because meanders and holds the hand of its audience on telling them what to feel, but I particularly hate it in this movie because it only echoes the distinct and emphasized dialogue that is easy to interpret if you just listen. This element materializes no fewer than five times throughout the film, and there came a point during sequences of transition between arguments where I almost muted it because of my growing frustration for something so unnecessary.

– Social commentary. Adding to the wet blanket approach that these negatives embody, is Levinson’s bumbling social commentary, which takes a solid film about the deconstruction of a relationship, and shelves it for a chance to get back at all of the people who have done this director wrong along the way. In this case, it’s particularly the film critics of the world whom he takes ample screen time insulting, overstating a concept in thematic direction that overstays its welcome by the third time it is brought up within the problems of this couple. As a critic myself, I have no problem with this element if it’s done brilliantly enough, but the level of Levinson’s approach reaches school bully level of subtlety, and because of such loses the focus and poignancy of his film and two characters along the way because he simply can’t feel comfortable in the successes he’s had. This could be forgivable if it were something new to Levinson, but he has made a career of stitching in these unnecessary elements of psychology to films that simply don’t ask for them, and takes something that should be a throwaway concept in one scene, and stretches it out for a self-serving pity party that audiences are making up an excuse not to attend.

– Dully repetitive. There were concerns from me when I heard this film was one continuous argument throughout, but films like “Two Girls and a Guy” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” managed to do it with success. However, the differences with this film when compared to those previous two achievements is the evolution in material and construct, which feels forced every time it draws us back in. As to where “Two Girls” took us through elements of Humor, romance, tragedy, and betrayal, which kept audiences intrigued through a variety of tonal shifts and evolutionary dispute between its trio of protagonists, “Malcolm and Marie” elicits very much the same tonal embodiment throughout the whole film, and one that feels tedious even midway through the film, when we’ve gone through the same set-up at least three times. Because of such, there’s weak continuity throughout the script, especially considering characters will go from loving each other one scene, to embodying an envious look in the very next. It’s fighting for the sake of fighting, and reminds me of various friend couples who I’ve fought to escape in my life because they can’t get the clue that they don’t belong together.

– Characterization. It’s a testament to the work of Zendaya and Washington for the way they make filet minon out of two character outlines who are the embodiment of upper class snobbery. I do love seeing imperfect characters in a film, but here it feels like there isn’t a single redeemable quality to Malcolm or Marie that would make them decent people in the vantage point of the public eye, especially when you consider the fire of envy that constantly swallows them whole throughout the film. Is there truth in what they convey about political reviews and black polarization in cinema? Absolutely, but I’m less likely to invest in and side with the person who will inevitably cry about Starbucks selling away the last batch of Pumpkin Spice Latte for the day. It starts to cement how inconsequential the entirety of this film is when you realize the two arc’s of these characters are entirely unrealized throughout, and that by the end of the film these are very much the same two people we met at the beginning of the film, when their car pulled into the drive way.

My Grade: 6/10 or C-

6 thoughts on “Malcolm and Marie

  1. Hmm… I saw that come across somewhere. I was trying to figure out why it seemed a little odd or off. Now I see. I had errands to run today and now I can’t seem to get warm. I’m in a couple layers of comfies and blankies thinking I should watch something. This won’t be it.

  2. This is quickly turning into the first divisive movie of the year and your review really solidifies that. You paint a picture of a film with some staggering highs and aggravating lows that truly encompasses the viewing experience of watching this film. Aside from a couple films from Sundance, this is by far the best looking movie I’ve seen so far this year and your description of the cinematography is outstanding. I also definitely agree that Zendaya steals the movie, and I hope she gets some more recognition for this performance. I will agree that there are chunks that are great, especially when the two of them are talking about their issues. However, whenever it tries to talk about Hollywood and critics… good grief. Pompous and pretentious don’t even begin to touch on that dialogue. I’ll just say that “school bully level of subtlety” made me laugh hard. I have a strong feeling that this will be one of your best reviews this year. Outstanding work!

  3. I like Zendaya in the other things I have seen her in, not too familiar with his work though. This one is a likely will not see for me, that being said your review as always is great at detailing the ups and downs. I am glad you felt Zendaya stole the show, hopefully will see her in more films.

  4. I’m going to watch it just for Zendaya’s performance in the role. This is another well written and thought provoking review. Great job!

  5. I wanted to watch this because I’m intrigued by Washington. His acting in Tenet didn’t blow me away, and I wanted to know if it was the script and it was a calculated choice, or if that’s the way he is. I’m still excited to check this one out.

  6. The wife and I are hoping to get time to watch this sometime this week….I’m reserving judgement until then.

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