One of the most hyped films to be filmed and released made in lockdown, Malcolm and Marie is a minimalist exploration of one couple’s relationship as they descend into an evening of real time arguments. This Netflix film stars John David Washington and Zendaya as the titular characters and starts with the couple returning home after Malcolm’s film premiere. It soon emerges that he has forgotten to thank Marie in his speech and the night transitions from one argument to the next spanning conversations on their relationship their backstory and the film industry as a whole. Written and directed by Euphoria creator Sam Levinson, Malcolm and Marie has become a huge topic of discussion thanks to the polarising opinions shared by critics and audiences alike with some people loving the film and others disliking it.
One of the most controversial factors that has been discussed and debated is the script. Some people have claimed that Levinson uses the actors as a mouthpiece for his own opinions on the film industry. I am not sure whether I agree with this sentiment or not but I do find the script overwritten at times. As the film plays out in real time and brings a minimalistic and realistic approach to the portrayal of the relationship, the script feels disingenuous at times. There comes a point where it feels as though the monologues become soliloquy as the characters seem to ramble off on tangents that completely detract from the focus of the film. Even if this is the intent, it does feel unnecessary and it’s important to bear in mind that writing for the screen is a different medium to real life conversations so making sure you edit the conversations will make everything tighter and more cohesive.
Levinson’s direction is brilliant and he makes fantastic use of the limited location space. Solely taking place in the house and grounds, we get to know the space and feel the claustrophobia that Marie, in particular, feels at the hands of Malcolm. Despite the limited resources due to the pandemic, Lenvinson becomes creative with his shots and way of filming and creates a film that has a lot of aesthetic intuition and beauty. When you consider the conditions in which the film was made and the restrictions enforced meaning a smaller crew and limited space, it’s a huge achievement that Levinson manages to create an visual impact. The choice to shoot in black and white was also a smart choice as it makes the space feel separated from reality.
Zendaya is great as Marie and proves that she can really shine on the big screen as well as the small screen. After her Emmy-winning turn in Levinson’s Euphoria, it makes sense that the two would collaborate. Marie is not afraid to call out Malcolm for his destructive and abusive behaviour, questioning whether his filmmaking would be as good if she wasn’t in his life. As the film goes on, we begin to see just how much Marie brings to Malcolm’s life. With her words, she breaks down everything Malcolm is to the point where every word and action he has made and is able to assert herself when Malcolm tries to dismiss her as nothing more than another person in his life.
Upcoming star John David Washington stars as Malcolm in a role that feels a bit wasted of Washington’s talents. It feels as though all the energy was put into Marie and her development whereas Malcolm’s character doesn’t feel as elevated or explored to the same extent. I think that a lot of my issues with the script lie with Malcolm’s monologues more than Marie’s because his point of view is littered with exposition. I understand that with the limited location and filming resource that backstory has to be shown through the dialogue but Malcolm is a character that feels a bit too over the top. It gets to the point where he becomes a caricature and it’s easy to switch off when he is taking because he rambles on. Washington does the best with the script but unfortunately the character doesn’t grab your attention in the way that Marie does.
The music by Labrinth is beautiful with hints of Jazz and RnB. Following his Emmy-winning music for Levinson’s Euphoria, it makes sense that they would reunite for this. Labrinth has such a distinct and brilliant sound that it fits in perfectly and becomes synonymous with the aesthetic of the film. Just as the house is full of character, so is the music. Perfectly blending different genres to show the clash between the protagonists’ points of view, the score and soundtrack is unique and keeps the film running smoothly even when the script becomes overbearing at times.
Overall, Malcolm and Marie deserves credit for its innovative filmmaking and achieves a lot despite the limited resources, cast and crew. With only two characters in the whole film, Levinson manages to make this minimalist film look visually stunning and delves into their characters in such a way that is rarely done. The writing is it’s weakest area but the scenes in which the dialogue is tight, the actors are able to really shine, especially Zendaya who is phenomenal and proves herself to be one of the new Hollywood leading ladies for a reason. Malcolm and Marie is worth a watch for its interesting approach as well as its incredible soundtrack.
What did you think of Malcolm and Marie? Let me know in the comments below!
Malcolm and Marie is available to watch on Netflix now!