Malcolm and Marie a pure acting showcase - movie review

Published By Marriska Fernandes on Feb 04, 2021

Malcolm & Marie is a stunning display of talent, giving Zendaya and John David Washington a platform to shine.

It’s 1 a.m. and filmmaker Malcolm (John David Washington) and his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya) return home to their swanky pad in Malibu after his successful movie premiere. He is in the mood to celebrate, while Marie is visibly upset about something as she slams dishes in the kitchen, making him mac and cheese. As he dances around and turns up the music, he doesn’t even realize that she's irritated.

The reason that Marie is upset is because in his long speech at his premiere, he thanked everyone… except her. The fact that she’s not just his partner who read all his drafts and critiqued his work, but she’s also the inspiration behind his film that narrates her past as an addict, makes it more insulting. Understandably, Marie was enraged.

What follows over the course of the evening and for the duration of this movie is a conversation about artists, critics and the film fraternity and then moves into a heated argument as the two pull no punches -- sometimes even throwing low blows as they examine their relationship.

The Performances
Malcolm & MarieThis film, which is shot in black and white, is a pure acting showcase for both Zendaya and John David. Given that it’s a dialogue-heavy film, the two perfectly match each other beat for beat. You feel like you’ve been invited into their home and are witnessing them tear each other apart and break down, making us feel slightly uncomfortable with their vulnerable and raw display of emotions.

Their chemistry sizzles onscreen, and their heated arguments feel honest as much as they are ugly. That’s what I appreciated in this intense drama/romance -- a different approach than Marriage Story, which was much less to my liking. John David is equal parts charismatic and magnetic -- crushing an impressive monologue that left me exhausted. He gives a well-rounded performance as you root for him one minute and instantly despise him the next as he undercuts with spitefulness.

Zendaya displays a gamut of emotions as she slips into the dark mind of Marie -- who happens to be Malcolm’s muse, critic, cheerleader and partner. Even in her long silences onscreen, she makes it count. There are many scenes in which she shines, impressing us with her acting range. The mac and cheese dialogue she spews during an argument had me laughing out loud. With her powerful performance in this film, she graduates from the small screen to the big screen, cementing her position as a lead actress.

The Script + Aesthetics
Malcolm & MarieSam Levinson’s script -- both sharp and perceptive -- doesn’t just boil down to relationship drama, but the fact that he ropes in conversations about the film industry, and the art of criticism made it quite entertaining.

In an impressive monologue, Malcolm rages over a rave review of his movie by "the white girl from the L.A. Times" – particularly because she compares him to other Black directors. He responds to it with "not everything I do is political because I'm Black." While the dialogue and monologues are equally striking, sometimes it can be a bit on the nose.

Cinematographer Marcell Rév’s captivating camerawork is particularly noteworthy as he swiftly moves from room to room, lingering on close-ups for just a bit longer as you tap into the characters’ emotions.

The Verdict
I enjoyed the film and can say it’s one of my favorites so far this year. That being said, by the time you reach the end of the film, you may feel emotionally drained and exhausted. Some might find this film long-winded, but perhaps that’s the intended implication of depicting this fractured relationship. It’s meant to feel like a 16-round boxing match.

I found myself thinking about the movie, the conversations and the performances long after I had seen it. Also, there’s award season buzz for Zendaya for her work in this film. ~Marriska Fernandes

Malcolm & Marie begins streaming on Netflix Friday Feb 5. If you have seen the film and would like to write a review, click here.

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