Movie Review: MALCOLM & MARIE Starring Zendaya, John David Washington
Written and directed by Sam Levinson (Euphoria, Assassination Nation) during the pandemic, Malcolm & Marie is a personal look inside of a deteriorating relationship that allows the characters adequate time to breathe and process each other’s emotions.
The film takes place in real-time, at a single location, after the premiere of Malcolm’s (John David Washington) directorial debut. While the filmmaker is high on his film’s reception, Marie (Zendaya) is clearly troubled by the events of the evening. What unfolds is that her issues with their relationship run much deeper than the actions of a single night, and they each take turns airing their grievances with one another.
There are only two actors in the dialogue-driven film – which feels like chamber-piece stage play. Zendaya and John David Washington go back and forth, exchanging jabs and hurling insults in a way that cuts deep – causing the audience to feel every and every blow. But it isn’t just two hours of screaming at one another, the way that relationship dramas can often feel. These arguments are written in a way that feel all too real to anyone who has been in a relationship. And while one can certainly side with one character over another, they both make points which blur the lines between who is right and who is wrong. Being in a relationship is hard, and admitting you were wrong is even harder. Both are forced to confront their truths throughout the evening during the meltdown.
Cinematographer Marcell Rév captures the scene on 35mm black-and-white film, a gorgeous picture of two beautiful people who say some very ugly things to one another. Choosing to use film over digital was an excellent choice to give the story a tactile feel – adding to the warmth and personal touch Levinson was going for. For much of the film we are given close-ups of the characters, and feel like we are living the relationship right there with them.
The performances in the film are phenomenal. Both actors have proven to be extremely talented with their previous efforts, and continue to turn in some of their best work here. The casting is perfect, and each is able to convey the intricate writing in a way that speaks truth to the characters. The film has a lot to say, and there is a lot of dialogue to deliver and unpack. Both Zendaya and John David Washington make it look easy, a testament to their skill given the amount of jam-packed monologues they deliver. While Washington continues to impress with every role he takes on, Zendaya’s portrayal of Marie in the film is next-level. Especially during the final fifteen minutes or so, it’s hard not to be in complete awe of the actor.
Ever since the film itself premiered, there has been controversy about some of the subject matter – especially what it has to say about film critics. But that isn’t the primary focus of the film, and people are getting way too caught up on some of those details. The arguments that Levinson makes are well-balanced through each character’s unique viewpoints, and they both make good points. Honestly, some of Malcolm’s statements about critics are hilarious – and very cleverly written. And Marie is not afraid to set him straight, especially the further they get into the evening.
Malcolm & Marie is a fascinating look into relationships and the film industry, and is written in a way that speaks truth to the beauty and ugliness that comes along with being human. The dialogue is cleverly written and truly captivating, delivered by two of the finest actors working today. And this is the vehicle Zendaya needed to showcase her talents outside of the high school characters we have seen her play recently. In the short time I spent with Malcolm and Marie, I feel like I know both of them personally – and there is much to learn from our new relationship.
Now streaming on Netflix.