In Sam Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie, the film’s eponymous couple clearly love each other deeply. But, like many of us, they have their issues. Malcolm, portrayed by John David Washington (Tenet), is a debuting director. Opposite him is Marie, a recovering drug addict, played by Zendaya (Euphoria).
The film revolves around the night of Malcolm’s directorial debut film premiere. It follows the couple after they return home from the night’s events. The film shows them in their natural habitat, with no other distractions and the tensions that life holds for them. It follows an all-encompassing arc, from their past experiences to their current jobs and friends.
Malcolm and Marie carry a rollercoaster of emotions throughout the evening. This goes from them laughing and loving on the sofa to crying and shouting in the bathroom. The arguments that play out on screen are certainly difficult to watch, however. It’s rare to see arguments portrayed in such a raw and honest way in films. Although there is some discomfort in watching the pair argue and tear each other apart, they are both honest with each other about their fears and their doubts. Whilst this comes across as cruel in some aspects of the film, it lets them express how the other person can make them feel. It shows the realities of being with someone else, not only having to consider your own feelings but others’. At the same time, learning how to forgive them.
Although the film has elements of a happy, fulfilling relationship with their pair having an obvious connection, sexually and mentally, it’s not a film designed to make you want to fall in love. A term that Marie uses in the film is ’emotional terrorism’ and that is exactly what the film demonstrates. Although it’s a love story, it showcases some harsh realities. Like Marie’s past drug addiction and depression, combined with Malcolm’s egotistical ways of believing he can do no wrong since he helped Marie recover. It’s love but it’s toxic.
The film is a different watch from many other love stories. Drained of the normal vibrant colours that love films carry, it’s shot in black and white. This element brings the feeling of a classical film as well as including old smooth jazz to complement this. Clashing this traditional style of filmmaking with the modern twist of iPhones and a contemporary home really aids the film’s visual mastery. It makes Malcolm & Marie feel timeless. Similar to the way La La Land combined traditional musicals with modern dreams, Malcolm & Marie combines traditional film with modern relationships. Making our escapism, a reality.
Due to Levinson deciding to film Malcolm & Marie during the pandemic, the movie had some restrictions and limitations, hence taking place in just one location. Levinson however, definitely made the best of the situation. Thanks to Marcell Rév’s incredible camera work, it makes the viewer feel as though they were somewhere they shouldn’t be, with voyeuristic shots through the windows. Although we know it was shot under difficult circumstances, the film doesn’t acknowledge it whatsoever, allowing viewers to take a step away from the harsh realities of the current time.
Malcolm & Marie certainly leaves an impression, being able to keep an audience interested in such an intimate exchange for 106 minutes is worth applauding and credit to Levinson for achieving that. Zendaya and Washington both gave stand-out performances and the smart framing only highlighted their talent as young actors.
Available now on Netflix, this movie is well worth adding to your watch list with an exploration of love in all its highs and lows and how art can be still be made for the big screen, even in challenging times.
Words by Ellie Boyle
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