Malcolm and Marie stars, Zendaya and John David Washington as the title characters. Malcolm, an upcoming filmmaker, and Marie, a former actress who became a model, come home after the premiere of his movie and things only go downhill from there.
Before we get into it, major spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the movie yet and BIG TW for verbal abuse, self-harm, drug abuse, relapse, and recovery. If any of these topics make you uncomfortable please don’t continue. I won’t be going into detail about the acts themselves but some will be mentioned.
The film came out on Netflix to very lukewarm to freezing cold reviews earlier this month. Since it is Black History Month and the movie stars two black leads, I decided to take a look at it recently. But since its release, I’ve heard that the streets weren’t vibing with it so I was wary but I was not prepared for the journey Malcolm and Marie would take me on.
Let’s start with the positives. In list form for your convince.
#1 The Performances
The performances from Zendaya and Washington are stellar. There are many moments in the film that the two have lengthy monologues and deliver them flawlessly. It is clear that they have great chemistry with each other while Malcolm and Marie are fighting and when they are getting along. You really believed that they were in the relationship as broken as it is.
#2 The Look of The Film
I really enjoyed how the film looked. It was in black and white and since it was filmed during Ms. Rona they kept the locations minimal, to only a beautiful house and the backyard behind it. The camera work is smooth and the editing was well done. For only filming in the house they make sure to take time to have scenes in the bathroom, living room, bedroom, the backyard; I think the movie uses its locations well.
And…that’s about it, unfortunately.
The movie was written and directed by Sam Levinson the creator of HBO’s ‘Euphoria’ which also stars Zendaya in a leading role. Levinson is a white man who’s written and filmed a film starring two black leads discussing race relations when it comes to the film industry. He’s said that the project was collaborative and nothing made it to the final screenplay without Zendaya and Washington being okay with it. The two even have producer credits on the film. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this at all. As long it was truly collaborative and he listened to what they had to say, I’m okay with that.
I always tread carefully when there are no black writers but there are black characters. Now, I’m not saying that white writers can’t have black characters and write them well, in fact, I encourage it but if you are going to tackle subjects of race, drug abuse, etc, that disproportionately affect the Black community, you need constant insight.
But let’s get to the real purpose of the film, the relationship between Malcolm and Marie.
Right off the bat, you can tell something is wrong. Malcolm and Marie come home, he’s happy that the premiere of his movie went well while Marie is withdrawn. We learn that during his speech he forgot to thank her. Which wasn’t a big deal to her at first but as she sat on it she realized that she was upset about it. The movie is based on big moments in her actual life, how young she was when she started using, her recovery, and her relapse.
Marie realizes that he would cater to everyone else but his partner. She calls him verbally abusive and just begs not to be taken for granted. Malcolm claims that he doesn’t take her for granted and calls her delusional. Wow, dude! But as it turns out, while Marie was getting clean, Malcolm was a supportive partner while she actually cheated on him. He also tries to really hurt her by telling her stories about the other “broken” girls he dated. Malcolm goes on to say that Marie enjoys being degraded and hurt but she wants to be needed like she accused him of wanting.
They go back and forth like this for the entire movie, hurting each other, insulting each other, and clearly trying to break each other. It’s uncomfortable to watch. It’s early in the morning so they are tired, Malcolm’s been drinking, and because the movie takes place in one location it feels claustrophobic like there is no real escape. Every other scene is them either yelling at each other in the same or from another room somewhere in the house or out in the backyard.
A big reason why this movie didn’t give what it was supposed to give, I think, was how the film clearly started and stopped because of their arguments. At certain points of the film, the two take time away from one another. The fight seems to be over and then they start to engage in adult activities until they ultimately start to fight again.
It gave me whiplash; from them yelling at each other to kissing. And it does a good job at showing how toxic they are and that sex is a crutch for them but if you were having blow-out fights like they were, would you even let your partner kiss you, let alone touch you after being insulted and degraded? I would not!
Maybe if they had found a way to make the transitions more seamless than them just making out or going on long rants about film making and politicized Blackness. The movie felt a bit fractured that way. Either it’s about their relationship or filmmaking and Blackness. If it wanted to be about both, there should have been more of a balance. Instead of me being uncomfortable for five minutes straight to being preached to for the next five.
Secondly, I think this would have gone over better if it was a short film. As it stands now, the movie is 1hr and 48 mins, which is about normal for a movie, but I felt that as they further in the script they kept repeating the same beats.
For instance, when Malcolm goes on long monologues about how film can just be creative and not political, while the movie goes on we don’t hear anything new. Some of the points he made, I agreed with. Like how not all movies that are made by Black people have to be about race or be politicized. If a Black person wanted to write and direct a LEGO movie (an example he uses), it can be just about legos and an adventure for kids. Not the subversion of race or the fact that they used a dark-skinned lego person as the main character.
But as I got further in the film, I felt like he was just tipsy, yelling into the void about other filmmakers and questioning why people question why they make the movies they make. While I’m concerned about the fact that neither of them have left each other yet. It was exhausting! If the movie was shorter we could’ve hit all of the beats they wanted about their relationship and his filmmaking and called it a day.
Also, can I rant about the mac & cheese scene?! I was cringing, that’s how much it made me question why I was there. It’s short but it’s used as a jumping-off point where Marie is fed up and lets Malcolm know what’s up but it felt so wrong. Mac & Cheese? Really? That’s how we get the conflict off the ground?!
I know I’m being overwhelmingly negative but I feel like it could have worked if they weren’t constrained because of Ms. Rona. There was another movie that came out this past January called One Night In Miami, it was directed by Regina King and got massive praise. It follows four Black American icons such as Cassius Clay a.k.a Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X.
The movie takes time to establish each person so we can see what their lives are like, who they are married to etc. A certain chunk of the movie, however, takes place at a motel. The four are all friends and converse about the state of America, activism, Clay wanting to convert to Islam, struggles of what it means to be famous Black men of the time, and how they should use their influence to help raise the Black community.
Like Malcolm and Marie, the motel setting is used well. We see them in the motel room, outside of the room, on the roof, and sometimes when a character or characters leave, we see how well the others interact. Now, ‘One Night in Miami’, had more characters and got the opportunity to film in more locations so they have an advantage, but that segment of the movie excelled as a character study the way it seemed Malcolm and Marie was going for.
If Malcolm and Marie wasn’t bound by one location, it would have been great to actually see them together before this point. Flashbacks could have been utilized well here too so we see what they are truly like without them just telling us.
What was the goal of ‘Malcolm and Marie’? To showcase a toxic relationship? They did that but having them stay together at the end does what? The two clearly need heavy therapy and need to break up because they are awful together. They say that they love each other, but is love really worth having to endure that another day?
Let us know what you thought of Malcolm and Marie!