The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Netflix] - MALCOLM & MARIE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Netflix] - MALCOLM & MARIE

malcolm & marie review
A filmmaker and his girlfriend argue in the aftermath of a film premiere.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Sam Levinson

Starring: Zendaya, John David Washington

malcolm & marie poster

Apparently inspired by a real life fracas between himself and his wife, writer/director Sam Levinson's Malcolm & Marie has a premise that Larry David might mine for comedy gold. Filmmaker Malcolm (John David Washington) and his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya) have just arrived home after the successful world premiere of his latest movie. Malcolm is in partying mood, but Marie is sullen and quiet. As we quickly learn, the latter is intensely annoyed that Malcolm forgot to thank her in his rambling speech.

malcolm & marie review

Though there are occasional comic beats, Levinson plays this setup with a straight face, which is perhaps ultimately the film's downfall. Shot in moody black and white, it's clear that Levinson wants you to take this as a piece of straight drama, dare I say "awards worthy." It's one of many films that were shot over the past year while on lockdown, and like most of these films it feels like a first draft rushed out to capture a moment in time. Even if the pandemic is never referenced, the tensions between two people trapped in a home and reevaluating their relationship is likely to make for uncomfortable viewing for many couples who have been getting under each other's skins in recent months.

Malcolm & Marie falls very much into the category of "filmmaking as therapy." Malcolm might be presented as unlikeable, abrasive and often cruel, but it's clear he represents Levinson's thoughts on many aspects of the film industry in our current age. Malcolm often goes off on extended rants about how his movies are received by critics, who reductively view his work as that of a Black filmmaker rather than simply a filmmaker, and he makes the case that he should be able to make movies about whomever he wants, which you can't help but read as Levinson fighting back about the criticism levelled against his debut movie, the pseudo-feminist thriller Assassination Nation. At one point the en vogue debate regarding "authenticity" - ie whether roles should be given to the best actor for the part or to someone who can relate to the role through their own lived experience - comes up between Malcolm and Marie, who is angry that he didn't cast her in the role of a junkie she believes is based on her own past. Thanks largely to Zendaya's superior talent, Marie appears to win this debate, but it's clear Levinson sides with Malcolm, otherwise he would have cast himself and his wife rather than a pair of high profile professional stars.

malcolm & marie review

Levinson's film often gets into queasy territory, particularly in Malcolm's obsession with a critic whom he disparagingly refers to as "the White lady from The LA Times." He makes some valid points about how White critics write about Black filmmakers, but given Levinson's own history with a "White lady from The LA Times" who panned his previous film, it's impossible not to see this as petulance on his part. Levinson is the son of Rain Man director Barry, while Washington is the offspring of Denzel, so to have these two privileged millionaires expend so much energy bashing someone who probably struggles to pay their rent feels like punching down at its worst.

As always seems to be the case with former Disney stars, Zendaya is excellent here, and she manages to elevate the role beyond Levinson's crudely on-the-nose script. She's at her best when Marie's reacting to her boyfriend's cruelty, trying to remain strong while suppressing tears. Washington isn't quite so convincing, largely due to his character being a one-dimensional vessel to air his director's grievances.

malcolm & marie review

Neither Malcolm nor Marie quite convince us that they ever really existed before they walked into the plush Malibu home that provides the arena for this bout. Any backstory is delivered through the film's many overly written monologues, so if you're like me and believe in "show, don't tell," you're in for a long 105 minutes. As an exercise to keep the acting muscles of two performers in use at a difficult period for the film industry, Malcolm & Marie certainly gives Zendaya and Washington plenty to chew on, but it's not so easy for the audience to swallow.

Malcolm & Marie
 is on Netflix from February 5th.

2021 movie reviews