George Clark’s review published on Letterboxd:
Sam Levinson's lockdown project Malcolm & Marie will go down as one of the most divisive movies this year. Starring the incredible Zendaya as Marie and John David Washington as Malcolm, the film's based around a filmmaker who returns home with his girlfriend following a successful movie premiere as he awaits what's sure to be imminent critical and financial success. However, the evening suddenly takes a turn as revelations about their relationships begin to surface, testing the strength of their love to new heights as the truth is revealed.
Malcolm & Marie will undeniably be a film for the history books, not necessarily because of its huge success, but because of what the director and cast managed to accomplish during a worldwide pandemic, on a $2.5 million budget. However, Malcolm & Marie is a beautiful, prolonged mess. Tweaks and imperfections litter the final cut and while it’s still outstanding to watch these two powerhouses’ performances enhance almost every aspect of the setting and dialogue, the film's ambitions aren't always satisfactorily fulfilled, with a less than coherent narrative and meandering pace littering the end project.
Given the speed and unprecedented circumstances under which it was produced it’s hard to harshly criticise the film, it’s great what they are able to accomplish under the restrictions and by all means necessary, it’s a film that’s worth the watch. Yet I can’t help but imagine how a few extra weeks, or possibly even months, of development on the script could have elevated it. Some of the dialogue is truly outstanding, the quips, spats and way it’s put forth is what makes this film as hurtful as it is. But that’s more so thanks to the central relationship at its center, which is so compelling in the moment that even when suffering from a lack of context it’s often offset by the beautiful look and strong chemistry between the film's major stars.
Early on Levinson makes it clear where his interests lie. Having worked with Zendaya on “Euphoria” he knows how to direct her to her best ability, showcasing her impeccable, rather stunning talent to the world once more. No longer is she the young Disney star many still think of her as. Instead she’s paving her way forward, grappling with much bolder, more ambitious roles and with that, she absolutely knocks it out of the park with her performance. Her character, Marie, is outstanding as you watch her flirt, fight, and challenge Malcolm over his various previous decisions at every opportunity, leaving what is, for me, an undeniable lingering impact once the film closes out. In addition to the quality of Zendaya, John David Washington offers up one of his best performances to date. His character of Malcolm, an obsessive director transfixed by the notion of success, is truly fantastic as he scoffs at the hackneyed attribute of ‘authenticity’ in film with his smug superiority complex and overall composure, speaking volumes on how one looks at their own creation. His character, in no small part, works due to the brilliance of Washington and how he puts forth even the most simple dialogue choices, creating multiple fantastic monologues that work brilliantly within the film.
However, the problem I have with the film isn’t that the script could have done with more work, nor that the bold music choices often overshadow many moments to come, it’s that the pattern of fight and make up, fight and make up, that left a lingering predictability about the end project. That’s not saying it didn’t work within, it more than succeeded at creating a compelling story that sucked me in and transfixed me to the screen, but it’s that I was always waiting for that one piece of dialogue to spark another argument, another monologue or heart-wrenching confession that moves the film on. Watching a couple flirt and fight time and time again has never felt so stingingly relatable and powerful on screen, after the last year I’m sure we can all agree that being cooped up with someone for a prolonged period of time can be straining, but there was always that lingering possibility that, if it had more time to be developed, there may have been a much better end product than what we got.
Malcolm & Marie isn't a terrible film by any means. It's recognisable to anyone whose love and career have been fraught with little obsessions and work clouded by little notions. It’s hard not to fully appreciate the film once it’s concluded with Levinson's script, while needing more development, working as a testament to the value of talking and listening in a relationship, with even its silent moments speaking volumes to the audience, while also tackles the critics and the art of filmmaking as a whole with curiosity and contempt which really allows it to stand out. Yet after the first thirty minutes it becomes repetitive to the point the story never fully lives up to its potential. It’s undoubtedly one that could have done with more time, more attention and a little more development to allow it fully delve into its point and while the performances are nothing short of breathtaking and the overall look beautiful, Malcolm & Marie is ultimately one that, while exquisitely done, falls just short of its amazing potential.
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