Malcolm & Marie, the new Netflix drama starring John David Washington and Zendaya as our titular couple whose relationship is on the rocks, is chock full of ideas. It’s a meditation on a relationship being tested along with the nature of film criticism and even being a black artist in Hollywood. Ultimately, as it tries juggling all these themes, Malcolm & Marie is missing one important thing: the point.
The picture, which follows the couple clashing over the course of one night after coming home from the premiere of Malcolm’s latest film, has a promising start. Malcolm is joyous over the audience response to his picture while Marie appears unenthused as she steps outside to smoke a cigarette. Without any words, it’s clear that something is amiss. The minute they begin their night-long argument affirms that there’s tension between them. That promising, wordless start ends up being undercut by the script’s rinse-and-repeat formula of having Malcolm and Marie engage in verbal spouts that consist of artificial movie dialogue.
Marie holding her cigarette outside ends up being the film’s most memorable image. One reason is the B&W cinematography done by DP Marcell Rev that gives the moment, and the overall picture, a pleasing visual aesthetic. It’s also due to the camera-friendly presence of Zendaya who, along with her co-star, is a major saving grace. As Zendaya plays Marie with ferocity and frailty while at one point giving a performance within a performance, she is firing on all cylinders. Same with John David Washington as he plays an irredeemably egotistical Malcolm, proving that his similarly charismatic breakout performance in BlacKkKlansman was not a fluke.
Through sheer force, both performers make this feature-length picture that would have benefited from being a short film worth watching. As previously noted, Malcolm & Marie offers a repetitive formula involving the characters arguing over typical relationship woes before Malcolm will go on an angry tirade about film critics to create only a notion of thematic importance. If it had been a short film, or at least an ordinary relationship drama that doesn’t provide commentary on the entertainment industry, Malcolm & Marie would’ve been superior. Additionally, by not even mentioning film critics, it probably wouldn’t possess the awkward optics of writer/director Sam Levinson, a white male, using a black protagonist as a shield against critics which has been a major talking point.
Even if Malcolm & Marie being an ordinary relationship drama would deprive it of the significance it desperately aims for, it still beats being a movie that acts like it has plenty to say without having anything to say at all. It clearly has a lot on its mind, yet its ideas just don’t come together. Ultimately, the only point that Malcolm & Marie manages tomake is that Zendaya and Washington are gifted, charismatic talents and they really give it their all. Everything else is simply meh.