The pandemic wasn't just rough on the box office and the existing slate of films that had been scheduled for release, but also the few films that did manage to get made in 2020 have left a lot to be desired as well. Enter "Malcolm & Marie" a wordy, tiresome examination of a couple who are as caught up in themselves as writer/director Sam Levinson seemingly is of his own work.
Zendaya is Marie and John David Washington is Malcolm, and we meet them just returning home from a film premiere. The film was Malcolm's, and he's on top of the world having just witnessed an audience fall in love with his film, and lots of important people gushing over his talents. One small boo-boo though: Malcolm forgot to thank or make any mention of his gal Marie when he was in front of the crowd, which was double-egregious considering that the main character in his film was more than loosely based on her.
The two squabble, fight, kiss-and-make-up and then explode once again, over the course of a night. They also seduce, dominate and interrogate one another as the film shifts the balances of power back-and-forth for the length of the film.
Shot during the pandemic, this is the essence of a "low-budget film" if you don't count its two A-list stars, who also happen to be the only two actors that appear in the film. Levinson is the creative force behind HBO's "Euphoria," which also stars Zendaya, and most of the crew for "Malcolm & Marie" were borrowed from "Euphoria" as well...Zendaya and Washington reportedly did their own make-up and picked their own costumes, since there were no make-up or costume people on their limited set. The entirety of the movie too, takes place at the Caterpillar House, a private residence in Carmel, California, and to drive home the "indie spirit" of it all (and to keep down the costs I'm assuming), Levinson also chooses to shoot the movie on 35mm black-and-white film.
It's a valiant and somewhat brazen effort, but the film reeks of self-importance and pretentiousness. Although Washington and Zendaya are both gifted actors, they are reduced to screaming many of their lines at one another...pages upon pages of dialogue that might have played well on paper but that don't translate to the way that people actually talk.
Watching "Malcom & Marie," you go quickly from interested, to appreciative of the effort, to downright annoyed, all likely in the first 15 minutes or so. If you can even make it through the film - and that's a big "if" - there is little payoff and the entire exercise seems like it might have played better in an improv acting class, where two actors are given a premise and then are left to their own devices and interpretations. In the end, both characters feel underdeveloped and the viewer is given little to engage with, or relate to.
If you've ever given an acceptance speech and forgot to thank your loved one, then "Malcolm & Marie" might just be your cup of tea. If not, you'll long for the moment when both Malcolm and Marie just stop it already, and go to sleep.
Genre: Drama, Romance.
Run Time: 1 hour 46 minutes.
Starring: Zendaya, John David Washington.
Written and Directed by Sam Levinson ("Assassination Nation," "Another Happy Day").
"Malcolm & Marie" is available in theaters on Friday, January 29th, 2021 and on Netflix beginning Friday, February 5th, 2021.
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