Everything you’ve ever done, leads you to one day, one night, one moment.
” ‘What a cunt. Mmm. This macaroni and cheese is delicious. What a cunt. I wonder if there’s more mac and cheese. What a cunt.’ “
Imagine being a fly on the wall of one of the most intimate and pivotal nights of a couple’s relationship, and of their lives. What we do in our private moments, alone or with others is important, they are perhaps the only times that we can really say we are ourselves, with no need to put on a face, a front or to manipulate ourselves into something we are not. Director Sam Levinson teams up again with Zendaya after collaborating together on Euphoria along with John David Washington to bring this event of one couple’s emotionally cataclysmic evening into your living room for your viewing pleasure, a peak behind the curtain at the suffocating and endearing intricacies of a modern relationship suffering and thriving under the immense pressure of fame and celebrity. Filmed in just 16 days, and completely written, filmed and produced during a global pandemic, Malcolm & Marie is a very modern ode to the old adage ‘less is more’, Washington and Zendaya are alone as the titular characters, and both manage to fit the emotional range you would expect from a full cast into their performances. Within the space of a singular evening, in real time, the two of them unravel the highs and lows of their relationship, and what makes this simplistic narrative so easy to follow along and engage with is that generally accepted idea that being an artist in their prime, being a celebrity, being a couple without want, is a paradise. For Malcolm and Marie, it certainly isn’t that.
It’s not always clear what Levinson’s end goal is here, is it to flesh out the frustrations and difficulties of couplehood that we all come across at some point, or is it to poke and jeer at the often fruitless critique of film? Levinson uses Washington’s Malcom as a film director and writer to voice his strong and lengthy opinions of the critics of his work, both negative and positive, as he picks apart and examines the words of reviews who’s authors miss the human experience of Malcolm’s film, and paint him as a politically-charged innovator, when he just wants to evoke some feeling in his audience. In reviewing and analysing films, it is easy to get lost in technicalities, and it’s incredibly easy to just be swept along by the riptide of Malcolm & Marie, whilst both characters can serve as metaphors for addiction their narratives as allegories for self-sabotage, the film as a whole just pours emotion from every facet, and that’s more captivating than anything it keeps in subtext.
“Just don’t believe the hype, Malcolm.”
For all of Zendaya and Washington’s chemistry on-screen, their fictional counterparts seem to occupy a clearly toxic relationship that borders on being dysfunctional and damaging. It seems strange that this is being advertised in a way that makes it out to be some intensely romantic affair of cinema, what it really is, is a very raw and affecting examination of social commentary through intense character study. Levinson as a director pours a lot of creativity into something that could have been quite lackluster, Washington delivers monologues with so much fire, he’s reaching the point where soon he’ll stop being known as Denzel’s son, and Denzel will be known as his father, Zendaya is an absolute powerhouse housed within a subtle confidence that comes across as effortless talent in her performance. Any qualms that can be had about the age gap between her and Washington can be challenged by Zendaya’s own words, that people need to start seeing her as an adult, and that she is, and so much more here.
Malcolm & Marie is an intense ride, and an absolute triumph for its stars.
Malcolm & Marie is available to stream on Netflix.
Drama | USA, 2021 | 15 | Netflix | 5 February 2021 | Dir. Sam Levinson | John David Washington, Zendaya