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REVIEW: Malcolm & Marie (2021)

a woman sits on a chair to the left and a man sits in a chair to her right outside of a modern house
Image Courtesy of Roger Ebert

Malcolm & Marie follows the aftermath of the film premiere for a new director, Malcolm (John David Washington), and the effects of this newfound fame on his relationship with his girlfriend, Marie (Zendaya). Both characters are incredibly flawed with traumatic backstories that viewers are able to slowly piece together through the painful revelations that are brought up by Malcolm’s film. 

I cannot remember the last time that I have wanted so badly to love a film as much I did with Malcolm & Marie. Despite being in the middle of a global pandemic, director Sam Levinson was able to create a coherent body of work with two actors in a single house. The concept fascinated me. However, within the first half-hour of the film, I couldn’t help but feel let down. It started off so strongly with the eerie sound of crickets chirping, making the audience aware of the unsettled atmosphere of the couple’s relationship. With the car containing just these two characters pulling up onto the drive of this isolated house, the film begins in such a mundane way but it is clear that something feels slightly off. 

But it fell apart, as soon as the dialogue was introduced. For a film that is so heavily reliant on dialogue, you would expect it to be dynamic or innovative. But after listening to one argument between the couple, every single argument that followed seemed to be exactly the same and you were left going round in circles, making this film extremely frustrating to watch. This may have been a technical choice, making it obvious to viewers that this relationship is toxic but only the couple does not realise this. However, I still stand by the fact that everything said in the 106-minute runtime could have been condensed into 20 minutes. 

One of the most intolerable scenes of the film has to be Malcolm’s 20-minute rant about film critics, specifically ‘the white girl from the LA Times’. Despite not being named, after doing a quick Google search, anyone can find out who the ‘white girl from the LA Times’ is and why Levinson has such a vendetta against her. This whole scene feels like a failed attempt at catharsis, alluding to a condemning article of his previous work. The taunt directed towards this specific critic seems a little too personal to be professional. Levinson utilizes the character of Malcolm, as his mouthpiece, to vent his frustrations over film critics, directors, and Hollywood in general. The film appears to be full of cheap shots pretending to be revolutionary words of wisdom that are hidden within a relationship. 

The redeeming quality of this film has to be the acting performances of John David Washington and Zendaya. In spite of the poor script they were given to work with, both actors encapsulated the hurt felt by the characters perfectly. They made the characters their own and were able to engage well with a seemingly repetitive script. The cinematography paired with the emotional rollercoaster driven by the actors brought back some enjoyment to this film. 
With changes to the script, Malcolm & Marie holds so much potential. Its stripped-back concept and incredible actors give the film a perfect, basic structure that could have produced a well-formed film. However, the often pretentious dialogue drags down the viewer’s enjoyment of Malcolm & Marie.

By Amy Britton

Currently Streaming on Netflix