The 400-Word Review: Malcolm & Marie
By Sean Collier
February 3, 2021
Forgive a bit of relationship-based opining in this movie review, but it certainly applies: Anyone who accused their partner of unfairly prolonging a lovers’ quarrel doesn’t understand how, and why, couples argue.
A verbal sparring match between partners, particularly those in long-term relationships, does not rise and fall in an observable, logical structure. As demonstrated in “Malcolm and Marie,” a feature-length spat starring Zendaya and John David Washington, such disputes double back, rise into ostentatious display, collapse into laughter, pivot into (and swiftly out of) sex, explode with never-spoken truths and decay into professions of pained yet unwavering love.
If that’s not what your own arguments are like, I’m not sure you’re doing it right.
There is nothing in “Malcolm and Marie” but the argument. Malcolm is a rising filmmaker who has just completed his breakthrough feature; Marie is his much younger girlfriend, an occasional actress whose troubled life story informed Malcolm’s movie. The pair returns home from a successful premiere with Malcolm reveling in his success and Marie silently fuming.
Here’s the rub: Malcolm forgot to thank Marie during a lengthy speech. As is the case in all great arguments, it is a symbol and a symptom of much deeper problems.
“Malcolm and Marie” is not based on a play, though it might’ve been; save for a few perfunctory walks into the yard, the entire film takes place in a gaudy Malibu home provided to the couple by a film studio. Zendaya and Washington are the only actors who appear in “Malcolm and Marie,” which was filmed amid COVID-19 restrictions in California (but is set before the pandemic).
But unlike many films with a theatrical feel — several of which are also among Netflix’s recent slate — “Malcolm and Marie” is carefully and beautifully directed. “Euphoria” creator Sam Levinson, also the screenwriter, dances around the couple deliberately, as if drawn to whoever is more likely to break down at a given moment. Cinematographer Marcell Rév shoots in the crisp, deep black and white of the bygone directors Malcolm loudly reveres throughout the film, capturing the tone of old Hollywood without the demonstrative showiness of the similarly shot “Mank,” another Netflix prestige pic.
The craft of the film is a bonus, however, as this project hangs on its stars — and they’re perfect. Washington’s range is stunningly dynamic, and Zendaya plays every note with fury, love and pain. It’s remarkable.
My Rating: 10/10
“Malcolm and Marie” is streaming on Netflix.