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Malcolm & Marie

NETFLIX (2021)


Director: Sam Levinson


Starring: Zendaya, John David Washington

Netflix saw JDW and Zendaya in just a promo and decided to drop $30m to secure the rights to Sam Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie - the power of marketing and the appeal of pure talent is alive and well. Pitting two stars in a taut, fiery affair such as this in the confines of a cosy yet luscious apartment can guarantee many things, however, in a stark film that persistently and forcefully tears open a seemingly strong relationship right down to its bare bones, could it provide the required magnetism that would be necessary to keep M&M bubbling along as the revelations continue to fall?

Well, the performances certainly do. Both Washington and Zendaya bring their A-game to the fore in utterly demanding roles that run the entire gamut of emotions, sometimes at the click of a finger. Together, they bring a fizzing atmosphere to the proceedings - one moment they’re all over each other and the next, well, they’re not getting along all that well, to say the least. Levinson’s dialogue is heavy and (mostly) focused, though there were moments where I found myself thinking, “Is this how people would really talk in this situation?” - at times, M&M began to feel slightly indulgent amongst the back-and-forth monologues. At its best, M&M feels raw (really raw) and genuine. The central relationship is one that is in real trouble, one with a vicious tension simmering beneath the surface, a relationship composed of two people whose vulnerabilities and ugliness come out at the first sign of trouble or dissent. The driving force in M&M was Malcolm’s mistake in not thanking Marie during his speech at the successful premiere of his new movie - we don’t see the speech or the event but we are witness to the aftermath like a fly-on-the-wall - and from that first argument, we bare witness to a relationship that is being held together by strained threads at the seam with the final stitches being the love the two have for each other. Anguished emotions permeate every gorgeously shot black-and-white frame and it’s a testament to Zendaya and Washington that every moment felt (tragically) believable. 


The decision to use black-and-white 35mm film lends M&M a vintage aesthetic and tone, a visual throwback to cinema of decades ago which in itself is fitting given the central story. The apartment the couple stay in really aids with the smoky visuals with some wonderful tracking shots through the building allowing for some majestic composition within shots - together, Levinson and DoP Marcell Rév have crafted an extremely beautiful looking affair that’s easy on the eye (an especially impressive achievement given the movie is set exclusively in the apartment). But, even with the powerhouse performances, raw emotion and stunning visuals, M&M felt monotonous at times. Monologues were traded in a “to me, to you” fashion and, whilst delivered expertly, the predictability of knowing just what was coming detracted from the experience somewhat. Whilst I understand the movie is intended to be that raw, emotional snapshot of existence within a relationship, that constant emotional beating began to take its toll and the magnetism became less and less so because of it.


After the chaotic and bonkers Assassination Nation, Levinson opted for something rather different in Malcolm & Marie - gone was the madness and verve and in its place was visceral, naked emotion and for the vast majority of the movie, he nailed it. Without the outstanding performances of Zendaya and Washington, I fear Malcolm & Marie may not have been as effective but we did get two exceptional performances that powered the movie and delivered raw, unfiltered emotion in nearly every scene. There's not a lot of fun to be had here, but that isn't what Levinson is offering - Malcolm & Marie feels raw, heavy, and real and that's exactly what Levinson intended.


January 22nd 2021

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