Quarantine-produced ‘Malcolm & Marie’: A self-indulgent series of monologues

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Netflix

Writer and director Sam Levinson’s newest film “Malcolm & Marie”, released Feb. 5 on Netflix, is a memorable and daring piece of work that relies on the brilliance of its actors to carry it through. For the majority of the movie, this strategy is successful, but the constant yelling can get old pretty quickly. Viewers may be entertained but not necessarily satisfied by the time the film reaches its conclusion.  

The movie follows a film director (John David Washington) and his girlfriend (Zendaya) after they return from the premiere of his latest and biggest project. Over the course of the evening, the two characters flirt, fight and cry, with occasional pauses for Malcolm to listen to music or Marie to smoke a cigarette. It is written like a play, which sometimes works on film and sometimes doesn’t. In this case, it will depend entirely on viewers’ personal taste. 

Zendaya and Washington deserve praise for taking on this daunting project — trading monologues back and forth with nothing to distract from the dialogue is no small feat. Zendaya seemed to grow more comfortable with her role over the course of the film, eventually delivering an emotional speech that is the closest the film gets to a definitive climax. 

Washington performs several explosive monologues that must have taken considerable effort and energy to keep consistent. Malcolm spends a substantial amount of time complaining about a glowing review of his film, arguing that the white female critic from the Los Angeles Times, who called his film a “masterwork,” politicized it and failed to see it as just a film. By the end of the long-winded speech, it was difficult to remember what he was angry about in the first place.

Malcolm’s movie followed a character named Imani and her struggles with substance abuse, which made it difficult for her to love and be loved. As “Malcolm & Marie” goes on, it becomes more and more obvious that this should sound familiar — Imani is based on the life of Marie, who we learn began her recovery at age 20. 

Imani is Marie, and Marie is Imani, yet Malcolm managed to avoid thanking his girlfriend in his big speech. This seems like a unique relationship problem to have, something only Hollywood couples could relate to. But Marie’s laundry list of things Malcolm could have thanked her for being — Marie, his partner, his lover, his supporter — is perhaps the most human part of the film. 

She only wanted a “thank you” for all the script drafts she read, the cuts she watched and the input she gave. She wanted gratitude for being herself as well as being his lover, despite his inability to express his affections offscreen. Out of all her monologues, this one feels like Zendaya’s most believable and mature. 

While the cinematography was creative and featured some striking visuals, the black and white filter added almost nothing to the film’s overall effectiveness. Perhaps the lack of color was a choice so as to not distract from the performances, but like much of the dialogue, it was probably unnecessary. 

“Malcolm & Marie” is an impressive display of acting that offers something different from all the sequels coming out of Hollywood, but this meandering and occasionally obnoxious back and forth could have been better executed as a short film. 

Rating: 3 / 5