It’s difficult to know where to begin reviewing Malcom and Marie, especially when Malcolm spends half the movie ragging on movie critics. But the easiest way to start is to say this is a spectacular movie that is deeply personal but widely relatable. The plot follows an argument on the evening following the opening night of Malcolm’s debut film. Over the course of the night, the ties that hold him and his girlfriend Marie together completely unravel after he forgets to thank her in his speech.
Both Malcolm and Marie are strongly written, but the performances from Zendaya and John David Washington are what make these characters. They are both complex and very human. In many ways, their faults outweigh their redeeming characteristics. They are silly with one another, and certainly enjoy each other’s company, but more often than not they are the source of each other’s emotional damage. Zendaya’s performance of Marie is charming but manipulative, and John David Washington plays Malcolm as clever and egotistical. Their argument explores the complex nature of drug use, jealousy, and gratitude in a relationship. They slowly become more hurtful, and purposely target each other’s weak points. More viciously, I would say, than a normal couple, and with a serious understanding and judgment of the other’s character. Their words are meant to kill their relationship, and yet they continuously reconcile. It shows a stubborn resilience from both, who have decided that this is their person, for better or for worse.
There is an interesting use of physical space. The house contains their resentment and anger. It suffocates the two of them, and they fail to maintain a cool head while within it’s walls. Even when they try to leave, the darkness of the night ensures that they have to return, sometimes angrier than when they left. When the sun comes up, they are finally able to reconcile. An interesting metaphor, considering the nature of the pandemic. The suffocation, and danger, that many have felt during the pandemic is addressed here. While everyone is locked inside, relationships reach their make-or-break point. In this house, Malcolm and Marie take their relationship as close to the edge as they can.
It is not without its faults, however. Each time the two seemingly reconcile, it is mere minutes until they are at each other’s throats. The first two peaks and troughs feel like they follow the natural course of an argument, but the recurring pattern becomes almost farcical after the third. The movie also falls into a trope I like to call the La La Land Complex, where Hollywood movies love to talk about how difficult it is being in the spotlight. Malcolm believes that he is entirely misunderstood, and that he alone truly understands the old classics. He is a reflection of the narcissistic nature of the film scene. While it’s not an uninteresting story, we have seen it hundreds of times over, even in just the past few years. Oscar nominations and wins went to films like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, A Star is Born, and Judy. Even the age difference between the two could be seen as more evidence of the self-reflective nature on Hollywood and filmmaking. Or, as I think is more likely, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. By making a comment on age gaps between Hollywood stars and their partners, it hires two actors who play right into that complex. This otherwise interesting comment on the nature of relationships and self-destruction instead became a self-indulgent comment on the film industry.
Regardless of this self-indulgent nature, the film is still a fantastic film about relationships and what we mean to one another.