Malcolm & Marie (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 106 Minutes
Director: Sam Levinson
Cast: Zendaya, John David Washington
Malcolm & Marie is going to go down as one of the most unique films in modern cinema history. Not necessarily because the film does anything all that unique or different, but because of the means of which the film was produced to such an ambitious, yet minimalistic degree. Being the 2nd collaborative work between Zendaya and Sam Levinson, who worked together on HBO’s Euphoria to critical success, Malcolm & Marie is interesting in the sense that it was one of the first major films to be produced in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the lack of a large crew, 1st AD, and the use of a single location may prove its limitations, the duo used it to create something almost along the lines of a two-person play filmed in the format of a relationship drama gone horribly wrong. All of this is definitely admirable on part of the filmmakers here, because while Malcolm & Marie will definitely be remembered for what might be the huge indie breakthrough for film productions going forward in a global pandemic, it’s hard to say it’ll also be remembered for its own merits as a story.
Starring just Zendaya and John David Washington as the only cast members of this Black-and-White Romantic Drama, the film follows a first time film director named Malcolm, who with his girlfriend, Marie, return to their home following a successful film premiere. As Malcolm carries on his celebrations into the early hours of the morning awaiting the reviews to come in, what starts as a celebratory night, turns into a massive argument, testing Malcolm’s own relationship with Marie as they question their status as a couple.
Being the first major Hollywood film production to start in the pandemic, this film serves as the perfect definition of making the most of very little. Given the small socially distanced crew being a part of this production, this film uses this to its advantage with Sam Levinson’s snappy script to pit these two actors against each other. Malcolm & Marie is mostly marketed as a romantic drama, but in another way acts as a meta-commentary on film culture and the romantic tensions that come from being partnered with a passionate artist. On a technical level, the film is phenomenal for such a small production. Being shot in a monochrome format, the film is beautifully lit with an emphasis on high contrast lighting, and it is used as a basic filter of sorts to be a true showcase for its actors. Zendaya and John David Washington both bring what could be some of the best performances of their own careers, and that is thanks for the film placing a much bigger emphasis on their characters to really shine their talents in a way most traditional productions might lack.
But while Zendaya and Washington’s performances could be praised for days on end, they are unfortunately the only major aspects of the film that shine here due to the film’s biggest issue: the script. Sam Levinson’s writing here isn’t particularly awful, and it is shockingly admirable how he was able to keep what is essentially a couple arguing for 106 minutes as lengthy as he did. But therein lies the problem. The film stretches its plot as thin as it can get and while it means the first half of the film can be quite riveting with snappy line deliveries and performances to elevate them, it loses its lustre quite quickly. As a result, what starts as an entertaining conflict piece becomes a dreary boring mess of a film, which even despite the performances can feel a bit disingenuous due to the lines feeling as though they were written as part of an essay than what feels like a genuine conversation. It all feels just a little too unnatural in the writing department, where there is just a slight disconnect with the film because you know what you're watching is essentially a play put to film than something you are legitimately immersed in.
The film also feels conflicted in how it also serves as a commentary towards filmmakers and critics. The film feels as though it is trying to say a lot about how critics are perceiving films in ways that the directors never intended and how they look into them too much. The film is acting sometimes as though cinema doesn’t require meaning to be informative or emotional or entertaining, but by acting as self-indulgent as it does with its characters and how the film fractures their bind as a couple, the film ironically falls into its own reflective trappings. It’s inevitable that films are going to be interpreted and that shouldn’t be taken as a bad thing. Films being given unique interpretations is what lets so many amazing stories live on long after their initial releases, so it feels especially irritating for Malcolm & Marie to fail to practice what it preaches. It almost feels like a trapping in itself to try and review this movie because of how much it feels like an attack to critics who just want to review a movie they hope to like. It comes across as incredibly pretentious more than anything.
Malcolm & Marie had the ingredients to be a truly compelling romantic drama with two incredible actors at their disposal to bring it to life alongside a very small production team giving it their all. But because Sam Levinson’s script feels so thin as the basis for a feature film, and reeks of a pretentious edge at times with its takes on critics and general film culture, the end result of this unique COVID experiment is a sad disappointment. There may have been a chance that Malcolm & Marie might have worked better as a 30 minute short film since that is where its simplicity would best shine without overstaying its welcome, but as it stands its an admirable film, but also an unfortunate failure for the actors and filmmakers involved. This film should at least be watched one time if not just to experience Zendaya and Washington giving it their absolute all, but aside from that, there’s not a lot to discuss with this one even if it thinks it has a lot to uncover.
FINAL RATING:- 4/10 (WEAK)