“Malcolm and Marie,” written and directed by Sam Levinson follows the tumultuous relationship between Malcolm, a narcissistic filmmaker, and Marie, his girlfriend and muse. Impressively, the film was created entirely during the pandemic, using a crew of around 20 people and minimizing filming locations.
Zendaya (pictured above), gave an outstanding performance as Marie.
Despite the fact that the setting of the film is confined to only a luxurious apartment, “Malcolm & Marie” is a visual treat nonetheless. It uses windows and doors as framing devices, portraying the characters in an aesthetically pleasing way. The monochromatic hues of the film remind viewers of old Hollywood glamor.
The cast is made up of only two members: John David Washington and Zendaya, two well-known actors who are no strangers to the world of Hollywood. Despite his previous resume, Washington fails to live up to the expectations set by his previous work. He performed excellently in roles such as the protagonist in “Tenet” and Detective Ron Stallworth in “BlacKkKlansman,” but his performance in “Malcolm and Marie” falls short.
Zendaya, on the other hand, shines in her role as Marie. She seems to be caught in a typecast of playing depressed characters, as evidenced by her role in the television series “Euphoria”, another work of Levinson’s. Nevertheless, Zendaya is a powerhouse and the best thing about the film. Her typecasted role works well for her in this film as she embodies Marie’s depressive and high episodes. The role was written for her from the beginning and rightly so.
Given the film only features two characters, the dialogue between them is the essence of the film and is meant to be a tool to illustrate the highs and lows of Malcolm and Marie’s toxic relationship. On paper, the dialogue is well-written, but the delivery leaves much to be desired. The monologues by the characters often feel sporadic, and many lines of dialogue fail to evoke the emotions they intend to from the audience. The de-escalation and random escalation of tension make the viewer confused.
The film also delves into the dilemma of being a Black artist. Malcolm’s film receives an excellent review from a “white lady” critic, but this does not appease Malcolm. The critic, a Los Angeles Times writer seems to forget that Black individuals can exist solely as individuals without blackness affecting the point of view of their art. She points out the racism the protagonist experiences despite this not being part of Malcolm’s agenda.
Malcolm is infuriated by this and gives a long monologue criticizing her, venting his pent-up frustration of not being understood as a Black filmmaker. There are conversations surrounding racism in Malcolm’s film, and “Malcolm and Marie” talks about Malcolm’s experiences as a Black filmmaker who wants to break free from the shackles of just being viewed by his race.
There are a lot of films exploring this theme, but “Malcolm and Marie” stands out as it delves into blackness from a different lens, where characters can be viewed just as individuals like any white character would be viewed.
Malcolm and Marie is an emotional upheaval of a film that has the potential to make audiences’ stomachs churn with pain and sadness, but it just does not deliver. Portraiture and cinematography are the only saving grace.