A filmmaker and his girlfriend return home following his latest movie premiere. High on his success and awaiting reviews, he notices his girlfriend may not be feeling the same way. As he probes her to open up, the night takes a turn as tension and revelations run high. Written and directed by Sam Levinson (creator and executive producer of HBO’s Euphoria), Malcolm & Marie is a gorgeous tale of love that showcases both the power of cinema and our words.
Focussing not just on the characters of Malcolm and Marie, it also acts as a nuanced commentary of film criticism, filmmaking and of the real and twitter-sphere world. The dialogue is cutting, and excellent, perfectly timed monologues enthral and a running joke about Malcolm directing a Lego Movie flows energy throughout. Marie’s takedown of the ‘middle-class artist’ had me howling with delight and I found myself clutching my chest grinning or on the verge of tears so many times at the brilliance of the observations and their delivery.
The film feels like a stage play, in the best way possible. The utilisation of the house structure is stunning and allows for wonderful flowing shots and takes, using the windows and buildings structure as metaphorical borders between the characters and their relationship. The camera switches in tone so fluidly you can’t keep up, instead, Levinson’s direction sweeps you up in this breath-taking grey ocean. A rightful competitor to some of my favourite visual shots in cinema, the use of light and even colour in a black and white film, the use of natural scenery and structures as props is all outstanding. Set over one night, with only two performers, the range of costume, of set design, of cinematography is in itself a work of art. I recommend looking into the making of the film and hearing Levinson’s passion for the art form. Malcolm & Marie was inspired by his desire to keep the creative industry afloat during the start of the pandemic and highlight the work that could still be created.
When creating the project, Levinson wrote this story with Zendaya in mind. The pair had already formed a strong partnership through her work on Euphoria and he has gone above and beyond showcasing her immense talent in Malcolm & Marie, along with her co-star John David Washington.
Zendaya may look like a waifish 16-year-old but she commands the screen with the age and wisdom of someone much older than her 24 years. She is extraordinary to watch, captivating, vulnerable, strong and schooling Washington who is also delivering a career-best performance. I could happily watch Zendaya scream ‘cunt’ over and over for the rest of my life, but it’s not just Marie’s dialogue that propels her. The film focusses on someone who has gone through addiction, but Marie’s character will resonate with anyone who’s suffered from low self-worth, with depression and shame. Watching Zendaya’s Marie during a bathroom scene struggle with the immense guilt of just being loved, knowing herself what she has done and who she has been in her past, the performance is astounding. I wanted to dip myself under the bathwater and drown myself from the fear, terror and awkwardness of it all. It’s hard to believe this is just two people in a room talking when it encapsulates so much of the fragile human condition.
The film is simultaneously one of the most unrealistic and yet realistic experiences ever. No break-up or fight really happens like this, except that when you are in these moments this is exactly how it feels. During a different scene, we see Malcolm leave Marie for just 60 seconds. The camera lingers on Zendaya’s face for this brief separation. Without moving, we see a physical change & emotional change so visceral it’s awe-inspiring. Washington’s sigh as he returns and senses this shift, it’s excruciatingly good.
Malcolm & Marie is one emotional wrecking ball after another. An emotional anvil to the heart and a breakup in slow motion. It’s the kind of film that makes you forget the size of your screen. That makes you forget about the box of junk you forgot to put back in the cupboard. That makes you disregard the chaos that surrounds you. It’s just you and them. You and Malcolm and Marie and their house and their world. I found myself asking if I had ever watched something that felt like this did?
Malcolm & Marie is a fucking delight. A beautiful, smooth, ‘authentic’ delight.
Available to stream on Netflix from February 5th 2021
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