'Malcom & Marie' Review With Casey
Writer/director Sam Levinson (Another Happy Day, 2011) definitely shines in his explorations of complicated loving relationships and emotionally charged monologues. His latest film, Malcolm & Marie, serves exactly those things but in a boldly intimate way.
With literally only two actors on screen for the entire 1 hour & 46-minute film, Malcolm & Marie is resolutely focused on the relationship of a movie director and his girlfriend who return home together one night after the Hollywood premiere of the director’s first film. Starting out with an air of exhausted celebration, the night soon changes into a war of words as the two lovers start arguing over loyalty, inspiration, respect, and forgiveness. John David Washington (Tenet, 2020) and Zendaya (Spider-Man: Far from Home, 2019) both give emotionally forceful and alert performances.
The film felt like it was trying to present a microcosm of the different stages in the lifespan of a romantic relationship. I use the word “trying” because the screenplay was frustratingly inconsistent. In an attempt to move the conversation, and ultimately the whole relationship, into different territorial moods, some moments felt forced or out of place. Watching the couple shift from flirtatious kissing to cruel verbal attacks is engaging and emotionally layered. But then other shifts into disparate conversations made the film feel like it was straining to magnify its own importance as serious artistic cinema. (Watching the frustrated director wax philosophical on the narrowmindedness of Hollywood film critics and the impotent comparisons of one director with another was a clunky digression from the film's meatier subject matter.) The film only excels in a few significant moments when its two actors explore the nether regions of their arduous relationship, revealing past wounds and present secrets.
Malcom & Marie felt a bit like a contemporary twist on the 1960s classic film, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? (1966) with Elizabeth Taylor (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958) and Richard Burton (Becket, 1964). While trying too hard to be a groundbreaking classic, Malcom & Marie has some strong moments and clearly reaches for the stars to achieve something new. But I don’t think it gets there entirely.