“A director and his girlfriend’s relationship is tested after they return home from his movie premiere and face each other’s turmoil during one long night.”

Director: Sam Levinson
Writer: Sam Levinson
Staring: John David Washington, Zendaya
Release Date: February 5, 2021
IMDB

Malcolm & Marie (2021) is a very unique movie. The movie was shot during less than a month span in the heat of COVID. Director and writer Sam Levinson got special approval from the Writers’ Guild of America, Directors’ Guild of America, and Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists organizations before proceeding with the shoot. Levinson was working in a unique setting, but that didn’t stop him from making a unique movie. Malcolm & Marie is one of the few Netflix originals to be shot in 35mm and black & white.

When you watch Malcom & Marie, you know you are watching something that is not common in modern day movie making. It is a movie takes place in one place, involving only two people, centering on one major argument. It is stripped any any distractions. Malcolm & Marie demands your attention because once Levinson tugs the first piece of tension yard from the ball, the entire thing dramatically unfurls.

Malcolm (John David Washington) is a young director in Hollywood coming off the premiere of a his first big hit and by his side the entire time was his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya). The cloud nine feeling of achieving one’s dream is dashed quickly when the evening turns into a argumentative intervention between the couple. Malcolm ad Marie get into an argument that continues to escalate even after false lull moments give false senses of completion. The couple have their love and patience for each other tested. Both parties share hard truths that shatter the pervertible shiny glossy glass of each other’s visages.

Malcolm & Marie is an actors wet dream. I can completely understand why John David Washington and Zendaya signed onto this project. Levinson is relatively new to the game, but he is confident in his vision, specially on the television front. Levinson has directed 15 episodes of the hit HBO show Euphoria while also producing and writing. Malcolm & Marie is his first movie since the divisive Assassination Nation in 2018 and it turns out that three years can make a major difference.

The writing in Malcolm & Marie is outstanding. The movie plays like a stage play with each character getting a chance to showcase their argument with a profound speech. David Washington and Zendaya both get multiple chances to illuminate their characters with Shakespearean drama. It is like sir William is penning but with a more modern touch; it is reminiscent of Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story (2019) and Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight (2013).

If you are looking for an older movie to compare Malcolm & Marie too, then look no further than Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf (1966). The Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton acting showcase explodes off the screen and forces the audience to see the ugly in each character. Ernest Lehman’s screenplay had the two main parts, plus two supporting parts. In Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie, it is just the two. There is no buffer. That is more pressure on John David Washington and Zendaya. Luckily for everyone involved, the pair are up to the task.

Zendaya, who just won her second Emmy this past Monday, is ferocious with her quietness in Malcolm & Marie. When the couple returns home, and Marie begins making the macaroni and cheese, you know that she is fuming. When Malcolm finally picks up on her poor body language and learns why, you can see Zendaya begin to stand taller and loom larger. Her confidence grows as she continues to fight, but then it is torpedoed by Malcolm in his rebuttals to her agruments.

This is not the most healthy arguing style. These two character can not disagree without being disagreeable.

The best moment of Zendaya’s performance comes after Marie asks Malcolm why he did not cast her in the movie. Malcolm is brutally honest with his answer, saying that she doesn’t want the acting profession enough and that desperation was needed to play the part of his drug and addiction themed movie. Marie is upset because she felt like this whole movie was based off of her, but she didn’t even get to put her own spin on it because she was on the sideline. She wasn’t even thanked at the premiere by her boyfriend.

If you have seen Malcolm & Marie then you know the scene I am talking about right here. When Marie takes the knife and begins explaining to Malcolm that she is just in a dark spot and she really needs help…I mean my heart stopped. I didn’t know where this movie was going at this point. Is Malcolm & Marie about to get even darker than I would have ever thought? The edges of the knife scrapping up against the floor adds the the tension already flowing. It is brutal. It is…as Marie would say…authentic.

While Malcolm’s reaction to Marie’s acting outburst is funny, it is not his top moment in the movie. His one-liner reply is indicative of his more bombastic version of arguing. Marie argues with quiet whispers while Malcolm argues brashness. His raise in volume can appear domineering, but in reality he is even more insecure than his girlfriend. Malcolm, while experiencing a moment of exultation, is still worried about what everyone else thinks about him and his work.

He has a built up fury against the world and those he was experienced life with. Now when he gets angered or frustrated, that pent up fury can sneak out in subtle ways.

For example, no one has ever eaten a bowl of macaroni and cheese more aggressively than Malcolm. This is when he first finds out that Marie is angry at him, and his frustration boils over into the loudest spoon shoveling and bowl scraping ever put to screen. He is not eating to enjoy, rather eating to hide what he feels.

Side note, when Marie calls out Malcolm for going to get seconds, that is when I knew I was all in on this movie. That is so real it hurts. That is something so relatable. That is outstanding writing.

While that may be the funniest bit of the movie, it is not David Washington’s finest work. It is rather fitting that the most vicious thing Malcolm says to Marie are not when his voice is raised, but rather when he is speaking truthfully, and calmly. When Malcolm is explaining to his girlfriend that his movie is not just based of her, it is a like he is slowly fulling her fingernails out. He is reciting every ex-girlfriend he had, every other foundational memory that did not include Marie. It is a reminder to her, and her own self-doubt, that she is just a part of his life.

Malcolm ends his final argument with a deep psychological dive into Marie’s mind. He reminds her of her own self-doubt and how the idea of wanting and needing are different things, and she has a hard time understanding it. When David Washington starts the soft crying while leaning on the tub, it redeemed so much of his character that may have been dragged through the mud earlier in the movie. It is remarkable stuff. It is not the loud truth that hurts, its the hidden truth that needs to be whispered that cuts deepest. And David Washington brings that out in the truly evocative way in his best scene.

Malcolm & Marie is a hard movie to watch because there is something that everyone who has ever been in a relationship can relate to. There are doubts about first loves. There are doubts about one self. There are the ways people fight and the way people attempt to resolve. Malcolm & Marie is a scary and wonderfully intimate look at the parts of a relationship kept hidden from the public and sometimes buried by those in the relationship themselves. You may find yourself lookin the mirror glaring at your own reflection, and that is the sign that Sam Levinson has made something really special.

STANKO RATING: B+ (4.0/5 Stars)


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