In a mixture of introspection, and blatant uncontrollable screaming, “Malcolm & Marie” is worth discovering at least once for its ambitions. Marking itself as one of the first wide releases filmed during the COIVD-19 Pandemic, “Malcolm & Marie” captures the madness couples are possibly facing when stuck with one another. The subject of COIVD isn’t brought into the plot, nor is it a factor, yet its underlying tone is there. Filmed entirely in one location with only two actors, John David Washington as Malcolm and Zendaya as Marie, under strict COVID guidelines, the claustrophobic Mise-en-scène doesn’t draw intention to itself working appropriately for a time capsule picture.
Philosophical conversations are brought to the screen in what is essentially a teleplay. Topics of talent, work ethic, addiction, race, sex, the whole smorgasbord of material you’d see in this type of film is brought to the screen. The usage of black and white cinematography is shot to emulate the feeling of watching a no-budget feature during a film festival when in-person events are a thing of the past. In laymen’s terms, it’s as if Richard Linkletter or Jim Jarmusch directed “Clerks.” The look relates to Malcolm’s drive. He’s a filmmaker that had the biggest night of his life. His movie about a young drug-addicted woman attempting to get clean is a smash hit amongst the audience during his big premiere. Awaiting the review of an L.A. critic, Malcolm’s anxiety is palpable, halting him from enjoying the moment. Marie has a bone to pick with Malcolm’s ego to make matters worse.
Netflix is starting to become a prime candidate for pictures that accurately depict destructive relationships. “Marriage Story” built the entire film up to an explosive fight between its divorced couple. “Malcolm & Marie” is that payoff but for the entire picture. Like “Marriage Story,” the audience will pick their sides. Somehow both these films touched the tapestry of these arguments, making them more than just the usual yelling match I’ve seen in movies about failed or failing relationships. It’s not about who’s right or wrong, but it also kind of is.
Malcolm makes some damn good points. To become successful in the film industry, you have to work harder than 99% of everyone else. From a guy who works in it, you have no idea how true that is until you’ve done it. Nothing can prepare for that challenge. The man may have an ego that shatters the rafters, but he’s earned it. There’s a line in the picture where Malcolm tells Marie, “you don’t work in film,” when she fails to understand why he is so angry at everything all the time. I’ve used those exact words so many times I’ve lost count. Marie isn’t without her points either. She recognizes Malcolm’s constant need for recognition. His deficiency in accepting praise when given to him. That is not to say Marie shares the same flaw herself.
As humans, we continually seek praise, consume mind-altering drugs, fornicate, then seek more affirmation, and repeat the process so we can push on every day. What’s in front of us at the moment isn’t essential; it’s the unforeseeable future that drives us like Malcolm. In that respect, I give this movie an amount of respect I didn’t notice upon first viewing. The camera capitalizes the movie’s ping pong of POVs, appropriately shifting its focus between the subjects, following them from room to room in the physical manifestation of their racing mind. Director of Photography Marcell Rév does a fine job keeping the center of attention in the correct place without getting lost in over stylizing his shot selection. One last point, Malcolm is on the money about woke critics.
Being an actor’s piece, the review can’t go on without pointing out the performances. I think I’m starting to become a Zendaya fan. From her work with Sam Levinson, the writer/director of this picture and “Euphoria,” the two form themselves into a dynamic team. The despair Marie feels is unmistakable from Zendaya’s performance. John David Washington gives the best performance I’ve seen from him yet. Malcolm is obnoxious in many ways, rightfully so. He’s also charming. J.D. has the sort of charm and abrasiveness to bring Malcolm to life in a way that was far more charismatic than his deadpan Protagonist in “Tenet” and “BlacKkKlansman.” Do more of that, J.D. A fun note to add when it comes to “BlacKkKlansman” Malcolm’s character wants to amount to Spike Lee as a filmmaker. Him and Berry Jenkins.
Capturing the essence of being stuck inside with someone you love with nowhere to go, “Malcolm & Marie” is a quarantine made film during a lockdown viewing period that depending on the audience’s familiarity with the film industry, may determine their level of interest. It is pretentious in all the right ways, even when it overstays its welcome.