Interestingly, before I started Malcolm & Marie, I was thinking of my role as someone who reviews movies. People who create art spend much more time with their creation than I do as I consume it. So who am I to just come along and spend a few hours thinking and writing about this movie before moving on to the next one? To be honest, I don’t know the answer to this question, and I don’t think Malcolm & Marie does either, but it’s at least willing to ask.
Completely produced during the coronavirus lockdown, the film follows a film director and his girlfriend over the course of the night when they get home from the premiere of his first feature film. There aren’t a lot of things that happen throughout the movie, but there’s still a lot to chew on. The two characters, played by John David Washington and Zendaya, spend the night basically teetering on the edge of a knife. Things are good between them in one instant, and they’re having a good time, but at the drop of a hat, everything could take a surprise left turn because of one wrong word.
To start off with the good, I think the performances are incredible. It does seem like the two actors take just a bit to find their footing, but once they do, they’re off to the races. Zendaya continues to show that she’s one of the most promising talents in Hollywood, while JDW proves that it actually was Christopher Nolan’s fault that he was 99% devoid of any personality in Tenet. He’s given so much to work with performance-wise here that I’m forced to think that if he was given even 10% of this personal capacity in Tenet, it may not have been such a disappointment.
The leads are certainly the least of the film’s problems which all stem from writer/director Sam Levinson. It seems like Levinson may have a petty personal vendetta against an L.A. Times writer who gave him a poor review for his last movie, Assassination Nation, because one of the central conflicts in Malcolm & Marie is the way Malcolm reacts to a review of his movie by “that white lady from the L.A. Times.”
What follows is an apparent diatribe by Levinson against critics in general. Malcolm says people twist everything about a movie just to fit their narrative, while Marie says he’s overreacting because no one actually cares what the Hollywood elites have to say.
The whole movie is just the two characters monologuing back and forth at each other without any real substance. It feels like nothing more than a petulant whine of, “You don’t understand my movie!!” The movie is more essay than film, and while the actors do their absolute best, it still feels like Levinson’s voice and his alone. But he doesn’t say anything of value. It’s all shallow complaints or long, expletive-filled monologues where one character degrades the other.
It really does seem like Levinson had something he wanted to say, but at the same time, you can really tell the movie was completely produced in a short amount of time. While the acting and black and white cinematography were refined and well-done, the script could have used at least a couple more drafts to make it more focused. Because by the time the movie was done, I no longer found myself questioning the role of the critic, at least when it comes to someone who seems to hold such contempt for the form.
At the end of the day, Levinson seems to be interested in yelling that creating art is about being authentic, and I do believe this movie was authentic. But the way it is posturing itself just doesn’t feel like a story Instead, it’s a thinly veiled way to loudly and very publicly (this movie is on Netflix) vent and air his grievances with those who would dare critique art.