While not everything it puts out is a hit, I cannot deny that Netflix consistently puts out interesting original programming that, for better or worse, is worth talking about. Sam Levinson’s “Malcolm & Marie” is one such project.
Presented in black and white and focussing on the titular Malcolm Elliot (John David Washington) and Marie Jones (Zendaya), “Malcolm & Marie” is the first Hollywood picture to be written, financed and shot during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it makes sense that this project would be the first to be fully developed during this time period, as the cast consists of only two members, and its crew was slimmed down to comply with COVID protocols. In fact, its production is probably the most remarkable thing about this film, as while big budget blockbusters had their productions put on pause during COVID-19, this little film managed to get made.
The film itself is messy. Malcolm is a film director who just got back from the premiere of his latest film with his girlfriend, Marie, whom the film is partially based off of. We spend the entire film in their home, and the two start off on edge, as Malcolm forgot to thank Marie at the premiere, which serves as a catalyst to blow open years of drama and strife between the two.
Marie is a former addict, which apparently is Malcolm’s type. She’s also a former actress, and despite the fact that Malcolm’s film is about her, he refused to cast her (he could have at least given her a cameo). But aside from the film, they also talk about their relationship dynamic and how it is toxic, with both Malcolm and Marie exchanging hurtful words. You do get a sense that these people don’t talk about their issues a whole lot, at least not directly, and that many of the film’s monologues represent suppressed emotions that have finally erupted.
It touches upon powerful themes of loss, loneliness, ownership, partnership, and love, specifically what healthy love should look like, and parts of the script are wonderfully written, and Washington and Zendaya capitalize off of those moments, delivering two very good performances that are almost great, and feel genuine and powerful at moments. But there are also moments where the script is really bad, ruining dramatic moments with things like a nonsensical tangent about “The Lego Movie” I think we’re supposed to see as endearing, or having Malcolm scarf down a bowl of Mac and Cheese while saying nasty things about Marie, that take you out of the scene. I know what Levinson’s intention was — to show how Malcolm and Marie’s conflict can be paired with normal things in order to connect with the audience — but they serve only to trip up the dramatic tension and points he’s trying to make because they don’t belong in the scene practically.
“Malcolm & Marie” is very good at parts, but it never truly becomes a great film, not only because of Levinson’s bizarre creative choices that often makes the otherwise good dialogue seem forced and awkward, but because it never truly finds its rhythm or purpose. It’s a film that has a great ascent, but can’t quite stick the landing.
“Malcolm & Marie” gets a 6/10