Malcolm & Marie is an arthouse style drama by Euphoria’s Sam Levinson. It stars Emmy Winner Zendaya & BlacKkKlansman’s John David Washington as the sole characters a couple. The entire movie takes place in one night after the couple return home from Malcolm’s movie premiere. Things take a turn for the worse when Malcolm realizes he forgot to thank the one person he should have… Marie.
The movie opens up on a slow panning shot that’s some distance away on a couple arriving home late. We can gather that there is something off. Is it the black & white arthouse style? The lo-fi voyeuristic feel of the shot? Or is it that we can already feel the tension that the couple exhibits coming home. We quickly find out our hypothesis is correct. This opening shot sets up tension perfectly between the titular couple Malcolm & Marie. The entire movie exists on an argument but how far will it go? How long will this night be? Will our couple come out stronger or weaker? What we do know from the initial setup is they’ve just started and they’ve got plenty of drama to air out.
While Malcolm & Marie is the perfect plot vehicle for it’s stars Zendaya, and David Washington. The movie wholly struggles to connect as a fully realized piece. It is only an entertaining movie due to the magnetic and strong performances from it’s leads. It’s shortcomings also show up in it’s depiction of its young black characters seemingly in love. On the surface it’s fantastic to see this and revel in it. Levinson wrote the script specifically for Zendaya, a young black actress. However, one should also consider account that Levinson who wrote and directed this film. A film that stars and focuses on black love was written from the perspective of a white man. Something that Malcolm is often complaining about in the film.
Then there’s the intensity of the fighting of the film. As I mentioned prior how dirty was it going to get? Well pretty bad, was it necessary? To take from Malcolm again is anything truly necessary in a film when it’s your art. Yet, the fighting in all its intensity, while it might realistic or not. It also showcases extreme episodes of emotional abuse in a relationship. Unfortunately, while the characters might be of privilege now. They are also BIPOC and fall victim to constant trope shown onscreen within black love. It isn’t love unless it’s raw, heavy, abusive in some form. While that may not have been the statement that Sam Levinson was looking to achieve. It’s one of many statements there.
Still, it’s there’s magic in monologues and undeniable chemistry between both actors. As they bring light and depth to a plot in other hands would end up squeezed dry or turned sour. Both embue their characters going through a vast amount of emotions in short screen time. They’re are times though where Zendaya feels more like Washington’s perfect foil. When Malcolm rants about the “white girl” at the L.A. Times. Or the numerous classic films he’s seen but Marie hasn’t? That feels trite and small.
Even with all the “Whose Afraid Of Virginia Woolf” vibes, some of the dark humor is rather hit and miss for these times. As I mentioned before, Marie has her demons with drugs, alcohol, and mental illness. Regardless, the coldness that Malcolm exhibits is brutal and at times insufferable. Not enough to counterpoint the dark humor. While Zendaya and John David Washington managed to pull it off for the most part. The film does it best to highlight young love in it’s intensity and it’s battles. It also shows us the perils of it, particularly when juxtaposed with fame. Malcolm & Marie doesn’t shy away from the darkness. Both characters are emotionally abusive towards each other, lacking boundaries, and proper communication. Then there’s a significant power imbalance between them. As Malcolm is often implying he “saved” Marie. To the bitter end, the art-house drama does its best to hover in the in-between. The ending or lack thereof, is open for you’re interpretation. Yet, for the viewer something about it feels hollow. After all the arguing and Marie’s wrought last monologue this is the end we get. Once more it’s very much indicative of their relationship but ultimately what the movie is truly about privilege. Marie was arguing about a thank you in Louboutins for an entire night. Malcolm is too self-centered and thinks he did everything. He also thinks people care that he can spout off classic movie facts like every other UCLA film grad. All happening in a beautiful Hollywood Hills home. It’s no wonder why it was so easy for Sam Levinson to tell this story.