DIRECTED BY: Sam Levinson
STARRING: Zendaya and John David Washington
A director and his girlfriend’s relationship is tested after they return home from his movie premiere and await critics’ responses.
Malcolm & Marie is a romantic drama that follows a filmmaker, Malcolm, and his girlfriend, Marie, return home following a celebratory movie premiere as he awaits what’s sure to be imminent critical and financial success. The evening suddenly takes a turn as revelations about their relationships begin to surface, testing the strength of their love.
Malcolm & Marie is a romantic drama and the latest feature from director Sam Levinson. After the premiere of Malcolm’s film, he and girlfriend Marie arrive back home, awaiting to hear of the critical response of the film. While Malcolm feels in the celebratory mood, dancing around the spacious living room area, with Marie prepping and cooking mac and cheese. When Malcolm feels like something is wrong, the late night turns into moments of revelations as the two verbally jab and provoke the other into bringing forth their feelings about their relationship that will either break or strengthen their love.
Basing the premise on Levinson’s own personal experiences, the film was shot during the summer of the COVID-19 pandemic last year at the Caterpillar House in California, following COVID-19 safety protocols placed by local authorities. The film opens with an exterior shot of the house, with the title card, cast and crew credits playing like an old Hollywood film as we await for the arrival of Malcolm and Marie to pull up to the front door. As Marie goes to use the bathroom in their ensuite room, Malcolm proceeds to put on some music (James Brown), pour a drink and dance to and around the living room. As Marie reappears to cook food, Malcolm can’t stop talking about how well the premiere went. Eventually when he takes a breath he feels like Marie is upset. As we learn in the first act, Malcolm forgot to thank Marie during his speech at the premiere and as we learn during the course of their arguments, the lead character of Malcolm’s film was based on Marie. Shot on black and white 35mm film, there’s some beautiful imagery showcased here from cinematographer Marcell Rév, with some gorgeous close-up shots of Zendaya and Washington, and one particular shot I really liked is the exterior shot of the house again, though this time Marie is having a smoke just outside the bedroom in the foreground, while Malcolm is in the background having a drink in the garden before walking back into the living room/kitchen. In terms of Sam Levinson’s direction, he uses every ounce of space he can inside the house and its outer surroundings, effortlessly flowing between dolly shots to steadicams depending on what heated exchange or respite comes next.
I’m usually a sucker for heavy monologue-filled films (e.g Before trilogy and, most recently, One Night In Miami) and this film can now be added to that list with Barry Levinson’s screenplay. While it primarily has heavy monologues of Malcolm and Marie attacking each other through past actions, failures and egos, there is certain moments of humour blended in with the heated exchanges that I enjoyed, one which Malcolm continuously berates Marie, who is in another room entirely, whilst he sits at the dinner table eating the mac and cheese. There’s also one particular scene in the final act that I won’t spoil, but when it ended I couldn’t stop laughing. There’s also a scene where Malcolm has lost all bearings trying to find his wallet in order to get through the L.A Times’s paywall in order to read a review of his film…a scene that everyone can relate too in trying to find something they’ve misplaced when it’s needed at the most important moment. Malcolm also gives a heavy-monologue about film criticism that I feel a lot of people will keep bringing up once the film is made available on Netflix on the 5th February worldwide.
While I was invested throughout the film, it does become tiresome towards the end as the arguments constantly continue on just when you feel like that issue has been paused for the night, so I wouldn’t be surprised if others might find the themes within the dialogue to be repetitive in its execution, as well as pretentious. As for the performances from Zendaya and John David Washington, I thought both of them were phenomenal here with their roles. Their dynamic and chemistry is electric, with Washington being the more flamboyant of the duo in how he delivers his monologues, while Zendaya can convey more emotion through her facial expressions. The performances are that good from the two of them, I understand why they’re being touted for consideration this awards season.
Malcolm & Marie had me completely captivated, from Levinson’s direction and screenplay, to Zendaya and John David Washington’s phenomenal performances. One I would’ve loved to have seen with an audience.