Marketed as the first fully completed film during quarantine, "Malcolm & Marie" is a richly filmed, powerfully acted and entirely engrossing, if not repetitive, relationship drama. With this film, writer/director Sam Levinson continues to prove that he’s a visual virtuoso that understands the subtleties and pains of love, criticism, collaboration and, unsurprising for "Euphoria" fans, addiction.
Both giving electric performances, John David Washington & Zendaya are the most quintessential toxic relationship to ever be depicted in film. Set exclusively within their Southern Hollywood home, newly successful film director Malcolm Elliot (Washington) and his girlfriend, Marie (Zendaya), have just arrived back from the premiere of his directorial debut. High on life, Malcolm wants nothing more than to celebrate, dance and eat Kraft macaroni and cheese with his dearly beloved. However, the night takes a turn for the worst when Marie mentions that he forgot to thank her in his acceptance speech. From there, the couple’s relationship is tested to its absolute limit where their innermost secrets and pent-up feelings surface in a battle of wits and words.
Despite "Malcolm & Marie" being shot in gorgeous 35mm black & white film, the film is completely gray with the viewer being subjected to watching this couple tear into each other without holding anything back. The film features argument after argument with each character spewing some of the vilest speech that one could throw at their partner for an hour & forty-five minutes. Essentially, it’s like the argument scene from "Marriage Story," but it’s an entire narrative picture.
At first, I was keeping score as a joke to see which character won each argument, but after an intense scene in the couple’s bathroom, I came to realize that there are no sides in this relationship. It works really well in the film with each performer giving some of the most memorable monologues in relationship drama history, but much like the character’s rough night, the constant belittling and bickering unfortunately gets quite old. This is not to say that their problems with each other are never out of pocket. It is because once you think the pair has made up after a heated argument, one of them always has to bring up something newly detrimental to their relationship.
I was really impressed by the film’s soundtrack too which comprises the likes of Duke Ellington, James Brown, William Bell, Archie Shepp, Horace Parlan and even Outkast. Initially, the music simply plays in the background of scenes, but as the couple’s night regresses, they begin to use music against each other. One such scene involves Marie nonchalantly playing Dionne Warwick’s "Get Rid of Him" as the two silently smoke cigarettes.
Sometimes the film is exhausting, but other times it brought me on the verge of tears. Regardless, I was thoroughly riveted by "Malcolm & Marie." The ending could’ve been two minutes shorter, but this is one of 2021’s greatest gifts with Zendaya looking like a shoo-in nomination for Best Actress. It’s an emotionally draining ode to the great loves of Old Hollywood I highly recommend to everyone. You can find it streaming now on Netflix.
But, please, for the love of all things holy, just don’t forget to thank your significant other.