Being in a relationship is complicated. It involves working past conflicting egos and finding common ground in each other.
In “Malcolm and Marie,” a young couple gets into a heated argument that reveals the best and worst sides of their personalities. Malcolm (John David Washington) is an up and coming director who is jubilant after his debut movie gets glowing praise from critics. Meanwhile, his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya) is mad at Malcolm for not thanking her during a speech he made after the premiere of his movie. As the film progresses, however, it is soon revealed that Marie has bigger issues with Malcolm than a speech.
The writing from director Sam Levinson is masterful. He managed to take a story about a director celebrating a film premiere with his girlfriend and turn it into a character study on a toxic relationship. Both Malcolm and Marie are characters damaged by their fears and failures and yet both are able to squeeze some love into an otherwise flawed relationship.
Zendaya gives the performance of her career as Marie. She effortlessly encapsulates a recovering addict who is attempting to voice her frustrations with Malcolm’s egocentric behavior. While voicing her grievances, Zendaya keeps audiences engaged by having Marie expose the film industry and criticism.
As for Washington, he does a fantastic job portraying a young director who is abusive to his girlfriend. Every time Malcolm uttered something repulsive to Marie, I tensed up as if I had just eaten a lemon. The only redeeming moment Malcolm has during the movie is when he gives a monologue about work. Washington’s passion throughout that scene reminded me of my career as a reviewer and how humble beginnings can lead to greater roads.
Stylistically, Levinson has “Malcolm and Marie” filmed in black and white, allowing for the characters to be themselves instead of the background being distracting. Levinson’s compositions complement a cold and lifeless house that is processed by an emotionally unstable couple.
Labrinth’s score fits in nicely with the barren landscape of the movie. It packs a punch without pulling viewers away from the actors or the direction. Levinson’s choice of songs throughout the film is also spot on and at some point even hilarious.
Pacing is where the film could have used some fine-tuning. “Malcolm and Marie” starts to slow down towards the last 20 minutes and the film could have ended earlier than it did. With that being said, Levinson masks this issue by having a compelling script and phenomenal acting.
“Malcolm and Marie” is a generational take on the value of romance and trauma. Zendaya and Washington’s chemistry redefines what it means to be in love on screen. What could have easily been a train wreck ends up being a masterpiece of raw emotion.
Few movies have had me reexamine myself and what I have done to others. The magic of “Malcolm and Marie” isn’t necessarily the characters portrayed on camera, but rather what Malcolm and Marie represent as people. Zendaya and Washington show the viewers the ugly side of being human. No matter how good our intentions can seem to one person, it may end up hurting another, leaving life-long scars.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of @NetflixFilm on Twitter.