Published Feb 04, 2021The opening shot of Sam Levinson's Malcolm & Marie is serene. It's a cool, breezy night — it's dark, the trees are swaying and there's not a person in sight. This shot is the calm before the storm.
We're introduced to the titular budding filmmaker, Malcolm (John David Washington), and his girlfriend, Marie (Zendaya). The couple have just come back from Malcolm's premiere, a seemingly celebratory night, but it's turned upside down when the pair get into a series of arguments stemming from Malcolm leaving Marie out of his acceptance speech. It's a night filled with immense chaos as we watch their romance unravel.
Early on in the film, a cycle forms between the couple. They argue, the argument gets resolved, but it's then picked apart, re-starting the cycle. From Malcolm aggressively calling out Marie's deeply rooted flaws to Marie picking apart Malcolm's narcissistic attitude, their initial argument is completely lost as they go back and forth for the film's 106-minute runtime. It's completely normal to have fights in a relationship, but the amount of animosity they have towards one another feels juvenile at best and toxic at most.
In the midst of their shouty night, there's a lengthy scene focused on Malcolm, racial politics in film and a "white girl from the L.A. Times." He gives a monologue that feels limited in point-of-view, comparing himself to famous filmmakers and questioning the authority of film reviewers. The speech has potential but feels pretentious. Yet, this is when the couple is happiest — when Marie is submissive to Malcolm's desires and lets his mouth run wild. While this diverging moment unites the dysfunctional couple for a few moments, it feels slightly jarring.
Malcolm & Marie shines stylistically. It resembles Levinson's other notable work, Euphoria, with its dreamy panning shots and emotional closeups. Here, Levinson and cinematographer Marcell Rév opt for a black-and-white palette instead of Euphoria's cool-toned hues. Rév works with Levinson's direction to be precise and dramatic. We follow the couple throughout their rented Malibu home, as they're perfectly framed between the home's glorious windows, and the colourless setting washes the film with the right amount of intensity.
It's also worth noting how the film puts the stellar talents of Washington and Zendaya on full display. Both actors do their best to add intrigue to characters who become increasingly predictable as they argue in elegant formalwear. While we don't glean much from their character's emotional rollercoaster of a night, at least we know they look good throughout it, and can look composed after a screaming match.
With fierce performances and a confined structure, Malcolm & Marie is a strong reminder of the value of couple's therapy. (Netflix)