“Malcolm and Marie” is both an anomaly and a letdown

Katherine Smith, Staff Writer

Sam Levinson’s new film, “Malcolm and Marie,” is both an anomaly and a letdown. While featuring strong performances and a fresh tone, it ultimately leaves the audience feeling like the characters: trapped and incredibly emotionally drained.

In this two-actor film, Zendaya partners with John David Washington to create a surprisingly strong dynamic in which both actors have bright performances.

Washington stars as a young filmmaker who feels the adrenaline of his new movie release — one he is sure will be a hit — and the long-awaited career boost. Pacing around a beautiful Malibu property, Malcolm rambles about his success and makes fun of the mostly white critics who politicize his work and try to dig for “racial undercurrents” in all of it.

Meanwhile, Marie is a stoic counterpart, curtly replying to some of his more outlandish remarks, particularly in one scene where she makes him a bowl of mac n’ cheese. Sensing the underlying tension, Malcolm finally gets it out of her that she is indeed mad at him, for reasons only revealed throughout the rest of the narrative.

Malcolm and Marie on Netflix: Zendaya and John David Washington deserve a better film - Vox
Despite excellent performances by John David Washington and Zendaya, Levinson’s plot proves too heavy-handed for its own good (Netflix)

The movie progresses with roundabout arguments broken up by passionate love scenes before going straight back to the arguing. Despite the talented acting and many strong monologues, the film lacked a plot that could support Washington’s and Zendaya’s performances.

Writer and director Sam Levinson’s own voice is alarmingly apparent in the script. The onscreen couple’s numerous fights are allegedly based on ones he had with his own wife as a means to show “his side” of the story to the world. Additionally, the harsh criticism from the movie critics comes from Levinson’s own “turbulent relationship” with real-life movie critics, making this film an attempt to depict both the foolishness of film criticism paired with his own desperate desire for their approval.

The film also takes a new look at pandemic filmmaking, with an incredibly small cast and crew that filmed the entire movie at a remote location in just under two weeks. In interviews, Levinson often discussed how this experience presented a new and exciting challenge to the process that he fully embraced.

While the entirely black-and-white filming lends a hyper-focused attention to the plot and acting, it is this pointedness that eventually falls short. Aesthetics and quality acting only go so far when a main narrative is lacking, and the characters’ voices eventually diminish as Levinson’s only grows louder.

 

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