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Sunday, April 11, 2021

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Film Fridays: "Malcolm and Marie"

<p><em>Graphic by Carissa Gurgul</em></p>

Graphic by Carissa Gurgul

Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian. This article contains spoilers.

“Malcolm & Marie” has been on my radar ever since it was announced that the film was undergoing production during the COVID-19 pandemic. The thought of two of the biggest stars right now, Zendaya and John David Washington, starring in an intimate project with
“Euphoria” creator Sam Levinson at the helm intrigued me. 

The movie follows film director Malcolm Elliott, and his girlfriend, Marie Jones, after returning home from a celebratory movie premiere as he awaits critical reception. The couple soon find themselves at odds with each other when they start to argue about past incidents in their relationship, how their actions have impacted each other and how their work defines them.

It pains me to say that “Malcolm & Marie” disappointed me. 

To start with the positives, Zendaya and Washington deliver career-best performances. The film is dialogue-focused, with both actors providing long and strenuous monologues throughout. 

I find it impressive that both actors were able to memorize their dialogue in such a short amount of time and deliver their lines so incredibly well. Zendaya should be a real contender for Best Actress at the Academy Awards this April.

The cinematography of the film is gorgeous. Levinson made a great call filming the movie in black and white on 35 mm film, because it was a real spectacle, particularly the outdoors scenes. 

I was also impressed by the fact that Zendaya and John David Washington were the only actors in the film, but they had to do their own makeup and pick out their own costumes. 

I ultimately had to turn “Malcolm & Marie” off halfway through because the long arguments, frequently written as the two characters trading monologues, gave me a headache. I did end up finishing the film the next day, but I think the main issue here is although the acting and the technical elements of the film are good, I just did not have much interest in this couple or what they had to say.

It reminded me of a worse version of “Marriage Story,” except I actually cared about the characters in that film. Plus, that film actually has a plot.

“Malcolm & Marie” will not appeal to mainstream audiences. Washington’s character rambles on about the hypocrisies and flaws of the film industry and film critics, and I just cannot imagine the ordinary moviegoer being interested in what he has to say. It also did not surprise me to see the film marked “rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes with a 58% score, as director and writer Sam Levinson takes multiple stabs at film criticism throughout the movie.

This leads me to my big question which is who is this movie made for? I was waiting for the plot to kick in, but I realized halfway through the film, that it just was not going anywhere. 

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If you are not invested in the film 20 minutes in, I don’t recommend sitting through the rest, because it never picks up. Netflix markets Levinson as a visionary director in the trailer, which ultimately came off as pretentious to me and made me wonder if the studio thought this was going to be something groundbreaking. 

Regardless of my thoughts on the film, I am impressed that Levinson was able to pull this off during the pandemic. I have faith that Levinson could make a great film if given the right source material. 

In the end, “Malcolm & Marie” was a slog to get through, and I genuinely feel bad for criticizing the film as much as I am, as I do have massive respect for everyone involved and did appreciate some aspects of the film, but my expectations were unfortunately a bit too high. I will say though, I would like to see Zendaya and Washington on screen together again at some point but with totally different material.

“Malcolm & Marie” is streaming on Netflix.

Contact columnist Miles Goldman at miles.goldman@richmond.edu.

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