Reel Reviews | Malcolm & Marie

by Tim Gordon

Malcolm & Marie is a black-and-white drama, written and directed by Sam Levinson. When filmmaker Malcolm his girlfriend Marie return home from a movie premiere and await his film’s critical response, the evening takes a turn as revelations about their relationships begin to surface, testing the couple’s love. The film stars Zendaya and John David Washington as the title characters.

A filmmaker and his significant other come home from the triumphant premiere of his film; we witness them in a celebratory mood . . . well at least Malcolm. As he dances in triumph, there is tension in the air from Marie. Over the course of the evening, both will express themselves in raw, authentic ways that will push their relationship to their absolute limits.

The two are polar opposites, yet flawed in their own ways. Narcissistic, needy, yet brilliant, Malcolm is an artist with plenty of artistic self-doubts. A recovering addict and supportive partner, Marie serves as the inspiration for Malcolm’s critically acclaimed story, yet as he thanks everyone else, he forgets the most important person, Marie, which serves as a point of contention that drives Levinson’s moody, dialogue-heavy screenplay.

Shot in black-and-white, and set in a majestic home, which serves as an additional character in the film, Marcell Rév’s arresting cinematography creates a claustrophobic setting ideal for both characters to really drill deep into their relationship and each other in ways, that are painful and hurtful to witness from two people who supposedly love and need each other. The film features several heart-pounding monologues from each character that is reminiscent of the most intense Scarlett Johannsson and Adam Driver scenes from Marriage Story.

The two leads are fantastic, Emmy Award winner Zendaya brings an understated persona, which features layers upon layers of authenticity bubbling underneath the surface. In one of the film’s crucial scenes, her execution, facial expression, and display of visual heartbreak, vaults this talented actress squarely into the Best Actress Oscar conversation. On the other hand, whether taking direction from Spike Lee, Christopher Nolan, or now Levinson, Washington continues to display his stunning versatility. His character’s reaction to a white critic, who gives his film a positive review, yet doesn’t understand the nuances of his desire to not be viewed as just a Black filmmaker, sets him off for a monumental rant, which ends after he has expended all his energy resulting in on-screen collapse, another signature moment in the film.

Sexy, combustible, and reflective, Malcolm & Marie seems less a love story but indeed a story of love, which on the surface, feels like an alluring co-dependent nightmare. While their relationship has its share of volatility, the chemistry of both leads, Levinson’s intense screenplay, a brilliant and breezy score makes this story of love one to watch again and again . . . and again!!!

Grade: A

by Charles Kirkland, Jr.

How much drama can there be between a man and a woman?  A whole lot if you are Malcolm and Marie.

It’s been a great night.  Malcolm has premiered his movie to raves from the audience.  Even the usually critical white girl writer from the newspaper has been positive in her assessment of the film.  Malcolm is on cloud nine and Marie, his girlfriend, is happily supportive of him, mostly.  After all, how hard can it be for a man to publicly say thank you?

Written and directed by Sam Levinson (Assassination Nation), Malcolm and Marie is a romantic drama starring John David Washington and Zendaya. The movie is shot in black and white and features only the two actors in a long dialogue for the entirety of the film.  Levinson who has worked with Zendaya previously on the television show Euphoria, expertly keeps the movie and the actors moving in an argument that is sometimes comical, sometimes silly, and, at the same time, incredibly intense and severe. This movie also has the distinction of being written, directed, shot, and completed entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Much like the film that Malcolm desired to make in this movie, Levinson’s film defies stereotypical pigeonholing that often locks a film into a certain demographic.  Certainly, Zendaya and Washington are both Black actors but this is not a black film (even though Angela Davis may disagree).  A shout-out is made to the great William Wyler, who had the ability to cross multiple genres making everything from Ben-Hur and Roman Holiday and Wuthering Heights, for his versatility for good reason.  Levinson has done the same.  His last film Assassination Nation was a bloody and violent action flick with a social commentary.  This film is completely different.  It is a piece that channels Neil Simon, Aaron Sorkin, Woody Allen, and August Wilson.  There’s little banter here.  This is serious, gut-wrenching, introspective, and emotional hold-no-bars dialogue that strips bare the souls of each character and lays them out for all to see.

Zendaya’s performance is the most grounded and real work that she has done since maybe Euphoria, if ever.  Levinson’s casting here was smart and she holds nothing back going toe to toe and jab for jab with John David Washington.  Washington, look in the past has looked like an actor, bursts out of his shell with an emotional bombshell of a performance.  He rails at his co-star with an indeterminable fire we have not seen ever before.  Both of these courageous performances are worthy of notice.

Rated R for pervasive language and sexual content, Malcolm and Marie is a knock-down, drag-out fight of a movie that proves that sometimes less is more.  It is a movie that comes across like a glorious stage play where the two principals are just going at each other the whole time, locked in gladiatorial combat.  It is the kind of fight that you keep your ear to the glass on the wall so that you can hear each and every word.  Thankfully. we have the visuals to go with the audio so we can just sit back, watch and enjoy the popcorn. 

Grade:  A-