Review: Malcolm & Marie (2021)

Director/Screenwriter: Sam Levinson
Starring: Zendaya, John David Washington
Genres: Drama, Romance
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language and sexual content
Release Dates: 1/29/21 (Theatres); 2/5/21 (Streaming)
Runtime: 1h 46min
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 59%
Where to Watch: Netflix
Oscar Nomination(s): Possible–Actress (Zendaya), Cinematography; Long-Shot–Actor (Washington), Picture, Original Screenplay, Editing

Malcolm & Marie is the first film to be filmed, produced, and released during the pandemic. It was filmed with a very limited crew and only two actors — new Emmy winner Zendaya and Tenet star John David washington — and everyone followed proper COVID-19 regulations. Zendaya teamed up with her Euphoria creator, Sam Levinson — who directed — to cure their quarantine boredom, to try something new, and to provide jobs to folks in the industry who desperately needed them. That’s all admirable and, while the film is innovative and features excellent performances from its stars (especially Zendaya), it’s mostly an experiment gone wrong. 

Levinson, who also wrote the the script, supposedly based the story on a experience he’d had in which he’d forgotten to thank his wife at a premiere. This is where Malcolm & Marie begins, and the first 20-ish minutes are actually superb. You immediately get a sense of the characters’ distinct, contrasting personalities and emotions in the moment; Washington’s performance is far bigger and showier than Zendaya’s, which is more subtle but probably even more effective. I think the movie would’ve worked much better as a short film of no more than 30 minutes, as after that point I was fairly bored and tired of the near-constant bickering and repetitive nature of the conversations Levinson’s script touches on a plethora of issues, from drug addiction to co-dependent relationships to film criticism (hey!), but even that gets redundant. The film is also highly pretentious at times, though I have a feeling that Levinson doesn’t care, as that’s one of the points he’s trying to make. 

And, while Levinson did obtain what I’m sure was some valuable input from both actors in regards to the script, it seems hypocritical to me for a white writer/director to have his characters talk about racial issues in Hollywood. I actually would’ve preferred a screenplay written entirely by Zendaya, Washington, or both. 

It’s a shame that the script is so messy and, at times, boring and annoying, because both actors truly give perhaps the best performances of their careers thus far — I can’t wait to see what they do with better scripts. As I said, Washington’s performance is far bigger than Zendaya’s, although I felt he went over-the-top at times (the script is mainly to blame here). Zendaya’s performance is much more complex and interesting, especially as secrets are revealed (as predictable as they are). The Best Actress race is already so loaded, it seems like she may not make the cut, but I would love for her to break through. Regardless, with her Emmy win for Euphoria and her work here, her career is sure to continue to skyrocket. 

The ending of Malcolm & Marie didn’t seem like much of an ending to much, as nothing was really resolved, although honestly I was just happy that it was over. The black-and-white cinematography is actually quite stunning, and I found the mix of close-up and further-away shots to be compelling, if a bit uneven and unwarranted. Regardless of how I feel about the movie overall, Levinson, Zendaya, and Washington did something truly unique that has certainly inspired conversation (negative, positive, and in between).