Synopsis – A director and his girlfriend’s relationship is tested after they return home from his movie premiere and await critics’ responses.
My Take – Unlike most I really enjoy talk-heavy films especially the ones which deal with relationships, as I find them fantastically energizing to watch. Mainly as conversations reveal the subject’s personalities, and their arguments and rants giving us a better understanding of their thought process.
However, for such kind of films to work, it has to have the heart to pulls us in and makes us really believe in watching these characters lives unfold before us as we desperately hope that the fictional love story stays put till the end. Sadly, this latest Netflix release kind of misses the mark.
Helmed by writer-director Sam Levinson, best known for the HBO TV series “Euphoria”, starring Zendaya, is among the few ambitious projects entirely written and produced during the COVID-19 pandemic. And it is mightily unfortunate that his lofty aspirations don’t translate all that well into the screen mainly due to its tedious slog of an overbearing script.
Although I wasn’t exactly bored, the film felt repetitive as the lead characters have the same arguments over and over again. Personally, I needed something more to grab onto, a jaw dropping twist, or just a more interesting conversation. While the overall film is provocative and seductively stylish made it’s a shame that is brought down by its wrought self-indulgence rants about how awful film critics can be instead of focusing on just being a conversation piece about a couple that’s on the verge of breaking apart.
Though it’s two leads aren’t the film’s main problem as both Zendaya and John David Washington‘s performances are solid, and you’ll be sold on the fact that the two share fantastic chemistry, but whatever profound statements the film wants to make about Hollywood or couples are just about lost in its flaws.
The story follows Malcolm (John David Washington), a filmmaker with a lot of big aspirations, and Marie (Zendaya), his glamorous girlfriend, who have just arrived home from the successful premiere of his latest film. While Malcolm is elated with response and starts celebrating for being called the next big thing, however, Marie doesn’t seem to be in the right mood, probably due to the fact that he forgot to thank her in his remarks about the film, which was partially inspired by her past as a drug addict. Over the course of the night, they both revisit long-lingering tensions in their relationship while also digesting the responses to Malcolm’s film.
Somehow, an intriguing premise and two dynamic performers aren’t enough to save this film from its almost unbearable tediousness. The film’s biggest shortcoming is without a doubt the script, as it’s just not equipped to run for 106 minutes. As there are only two characters in the film, their trajectory is too obvious: from hot to cold, to hot again, and then to cold again, and at some point you just want to yell stop.
The screenplay also makes the odd move of having Malcolm launch into a rant, straight out of the gate, about film critics. Especially a white girl from the L.A. Times who looms large over the film. There are many minutes and multiple rants dedicated to excoriating this woman and criticism in general. Just five minutes in, Malcolm recounts how at the premiere she compared him to Spike Lee, John Singleton, and Barry Jenkins, but he’s offended that she didn’t to William Wyler, is sure that because of his color, they are framing his film through a political lens. But the manner and matter of his complaints are entirely related to how critics do or do not understand his work specifically, or cinema, only establishes that Malcolm is more annoying than most critics.
Here, director Levinson seems less interested in developing Malcolm and Marie as characters and people than he is in using their squabbles as a way to talk about broader matters of art and authenticity. The pair start talking, then arguing, and this is where the trouble comes in.
To write a good argument requires some virtuosity, most people don’t really enjoy listening to others bicker, especially people they don’t know or have any reason to care about. We just met them, and the only reason we have to invest ourselves in them is that they’re on our screens right now. And their all-night argument unfolds in a familiar rhythm: an accusation or question sends long-simmered resentments bubbling to the surface, and then a little silence before things flare again. Marie isn’t just mad that Malcolm forgot to thank her on stage at the premiere; she’s mad that his oversight is one in a long series of grievances and sleights.
Part of Marie’s problem is that Malcolm’s film, about a young drug addict, was inspired, at least in her eyes, by her life as a former young drug addict. The film wants you to consider if he owe her anything and while Malcolm is positioned as a pompous hothead, his arguments are also no-holds-barred, especially tending to attack Marie with her most painful moments. The cruelty in Malcolm’s arguments escalates to the point where it’s disrespectful, and uncomfortable to watch both him reveling in getting a win and Marie trying to keep a cool face through the hurt.
Occasionally the film flirts with thoughtfulness and contains scenes that are very powerful, yet in the end it all feels like a mixed bag.
Performance wise, John David Washington is outstanding, and continues his run of excellent performances over the last couple of years. His character is very expressive and intense, and you can clearly see he’s all for it. Zendaya‘s star is still rising, and she also delivers in a genre that has up until this point been uncharted territory for her. Her character leaves a little to be desired at the start, where she seems somewhat monotone and held back, but she later gets her moments to shine and totally nails them. On the whole, ‘Malcolm & Marie’ is a tedious experiment backed by two powerful acting showcases.
Directed – Sam Levinson
Rated – R
Run Time – 106 minutes