The storyline of Malcolm & Marie is simple enough: the titular couple return home after the premier screening of Malcolm’s new film, but all is not well. Here we have a toxic relationship confined to a house in the Hollywood Hills. There’s no escape from the tirades of hate and love. Think Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but in a stylish open plan house which is to die for.
This is a movie about the art of movies and why being an artist is so impossibly hard. Whilst it could have become a typical wet dream of the Oscars, the film does raise some interesting thoughts which criticise the industry and set it apart from other Oscar bait. Do movies including black people always have to be political? Can someone make a movie about something they’ve never personally experienced? What is the purpose of authenticity, does it make a movie better? It may be that Sam Levinson is using Malcolm as a mouthpiece for his own opinions about movies, controversial as they are. The position of critics is challenged when Malcom rants about what he deems to be a bad film review, so despite his fictionality, I found myself a bit scared to review this film.
At the film’s core is a toxic, red-flag filled relationship. It’s hard to watch at times but the acting is superb. Throughout the movie we see Zendaya’s Marie strip away makeup, designer clothes and a bored attitude to reveal a constant self-hatred. She projects that hatred on to Malcolm, self-sabotaging because she does not believe she deserves happiness. John David Washington acts the part of Malcolm incredibly which is especially commendable as it honestly is not as well written as the character of Marie. He’s self-involved and his most powerful moments are monologues about films, not his interactions with Marie. However, Malcolm displays the challenges that can come loving someone with mental health problems. My only big gripe is with Marie spending most of the film in either a revealing dress, or naked in a bathtub but perhaps Sam Levinson was trying to make her vulnerability more obvious. In case the tears weren’t enough.
This movie is a bit pretentious, but what’s wrong with a little experimentation? It’s shot in black and white, which forces the viewer focus on Malcolm and Marie. The camerawork reflects on the mood and emotions between the titualar couple. For instance, one of the first scenes features the two characters in the living room. Whilst Malcolm ecstatically monologues and dances around the sofa, Marie watches from the doorway, bored. The camera is distant highlighting their emotional and physical distance beautifully. This shot is later juxtaposed by an old Hollywood romantic close-up. They seem like the only people in the world to each other when they’re on the sofa together, joking about movie critics and flirting about success.
It’s a stunning and thought-provoking film watch. Malcom & Marie reminds you film is an art, and art doesn’t need to have a reason to be. Its characters are enigmatic and intoxifying. However, if you or anyone you know watches this and finds themselves relating or admiring either of the main characters… maybe consider therapy.
Image: Netflix via Wikimedia Commons