You know what’s less fun than actually being in a prolonged argument? Watching a nearly two-hour argument between two incredibly messy people. That’s ultimately the issue with Malcolm & Marie.
It’s stuck in an exhausting cycle of one petty argument after another that grows tiresome long before anyone gets the final word.
Malcolm & Marie provides the cruel, stark dissolution(?) of a relationship in black and white. The two-tone color is a smart visual choice as it keeps the focus on Malcolm & Marie.
It’s the end of a major night for Malcolm (John David Washington, Tenet) as he’s celebrating the release of his directorial debut. Less enthused is his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya, Spider-Man: Far From Home), who has grown weary of Malcolm’s antics and has some long withheld thoughts she’s ready to unleash.
Director/Writer Sam Levinson stages the film from unconventional perspectives. At times the camera is almost uncomfortably close while other scenes are from a distance mirroring the growing chasm between Malcolm and Marie. The film plays out like a salvo of vicious, cruel attacks. Malcolm lashes out and then Marie walks off to gather her ammunition for the next battle.
Malcolm is an emotional battering ram who overwhelms with his intensity and diatribes that constantly go for the jugular. Marie is less emotional and precise with her words, able to more effectively cut Malcolm to the core like a surgeon.
She unloads and sends Malcolm spiraling for a moment only for him to follow her to another room and start all over again. These moments feel very real with zero holds or F’s given about the other’s hurt feelings. There’s just not enough depth to it.
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Zendaya and Washington are truly sensational. They bring so much life to the characters and it’s only at the final act does their energy start to wane likely due to feel like they’ve essentially taken Malcolm and Marie to all the emotional roads possible.
It’s a shame that Levinson opted to devote so much of the film to one incredibly awful series of arguments as this was a love story worth exploring earlier on for better context instead of just the characters’ warped sense of what led them to this night. Marriage Story played out like a stronger end of relationship film simply from showing various aspects of the process — the highs, lows and eventual ending.
The real pity is Zendaya and Washington are just as strong as Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson’s Oscar nominated performances, but likely won’t receive the same accolades due to the film faltering under its pretense that it has something greater to say about crappy relationships.
Levinson’s dialogue is blistering and overwhelming so at times. There’s too many arguments over the course of an hour for any couple to reasonably keep coming back for another round.
At times it feels like Levinson packed the equivalent of the biggest argument in three or four romantic dramas into one film. It goes beyond overkill and happily wallows in overindulgence. There’s little balance here as Malcolm and Marie casually mention reasons why they’re sticking around for two minutes only to fester in their toxic thoughts and decide actually it was a lot better to just strike up another argument.
Even less effective is Levinson’s extended rant by proxy against film critics. He accuses critics of being think piece, woke indulgent hacks showing off their collegiate education. It’s impressive how oblivious Levinson is that too much of his own dialogue comes off just as showy and inauthentic as the critics he targets.
Malcolm & Marie squanders exceptional performances from Zendaya and Washington by failing to offer enough incentive for viewers to stay engaged long before a winner is settled.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Netflix