Malcolm & Marie is a black and white romantic drama starring John David Washington and Zendaya is directed by Sam Levinson, known for Assassination Nation and Euphoria, the latter of which Zendaya also stars in. Entirely written and produced during the COVID-19 pandemic, the single location movie follows the titular couple coming home from the premiere of a film Malcolm directed where he failed to thank Marie for being a key part of the process in the creation of said film. This offscreen inciting incident leads to a series of events that will push the limits of their relationship.
The first thing one notices in Malcolm & Marie is it’s gorgeous black and white cinematography. The shadows and lighting of the film are stunning, and there are a handful of long takes that capture the restlessness of the characters so well as the walk around the beautiful house the entire movie is set in. If the film was judged merely on these merits, there would be little to complain about. Unfortunately, it can’t be.
The film’s main flaw is its long winded and tedious yet aimless writing. From the get-go, both characters speak almost entirely in the form of lengthy monologues. Going on and on speaking endlessly of their relationship, Malcolm’s movie, film critics, and the film industry. There are some moments, few and far between, where the characters slow down and just converse normally and they feel like acts of mercy, but even these moments are often tainted by wordy or awkward dialogue. As the movie goes on the dialogue just becomes more unbearable. If it were not for the expressive performances of the two stars, especially Zendaya, these monologues might be completely unwatchable.
These relentless speeches are made worse by just how empty and inauthentic the content of them is. The characters psychoanalyze each other, almost speaking directly towards the audience, just explaining who the person they are sharing the screen with is. Their rants about the film industry and critics appear like arguments that Levinson has had with himself and then put onto page. When Malcolm or Marie speaks about how much they love and/or hate each other, so little passion is felt. The writing is so precise and to the point that it seems unnatural and planned, as if both Marie and Malcolm had written and memorized what they wanted to say to each other far in advance. This couple is supposed to be arguing with each other and spilling their guts showing how much they love one another, so why are they so coherent and robotic. They should be exasperated, at a loss for words sometimes, but they never are. They always have something else to say, and it’s never anything compelling.
To add to all this, so little is known about our only characters or their relationship other than just how fraught it is. So little reason is given as to why this couple is together or why anyone should care whether or not they should stay together. Marie and Malcolm don’t feel like they exist not just outside of the world of the movie but even the moments leading up to when the film starts and any time after it ends.
Malcolm & Marie is a frustrating affair where even its strengths, such as its jazzy score, are kneecapped by how proud of the movie is for just existing. There is so little to glean from its story that there is not much purpose in experiencing it unless you find joy in people being endlessly at each other’s throats in a pretty house, and you’ll find more exciting examples of that in movies like Knives Out or Ready or Not.
Malcolm & Marie is currently streaming on Netflix.
Lucas Ortega is a perpetually confused English student who loves indie comedy-dramas but usually lets the streaming algorithm curate his film diet.