Released: 5th February
Seen: 7th February
During the last year, a lot of films and TV series have had to adapt to this strange new world of the pandemic. Some shows just stopped filming all together, others imposed strict rules to maintain safety. Watch a recent episode of Law & Order SVU and you’ll see large plastic barriers everywhere to protect the cast that had to be written into the text of the show. It’s also led to a lot of films being created from scratch to adapt to this new world of Covid.
The first major film that everyone really latched onto that came out of this strange new world was Host, one of the best films of 2020 as decided by me, and it proved that the new limitations could inspire some incredible artwork. However, the first film to be written, funded and produced during the pandemic was Malcolm & Marie and… I mean, it’s fine but with this caliber of talent it should’ve been better.
Malcolm & Marie follows… well, Malcolm (John David Washington) and Marie (Zendaya) who are coming home from the premiere of Malcolm’s latest film. Apparently during a speech he made, Malcolm forgot to thank Marie. This leads to a fight that lasts for about an hour and a half that’s occasionally interrupted with screaming about their relationship, screaming about a positive review and going to the bathroom to take a piss. Both Malcolm & Marie have a serious case of dramatic monologue mouth that they use every 20 minutes for a dramatic moment that gives the film it’s pulse.
There is something kind of awkward about negatively critiquing a film that dedicates an entire scene to one of the main characters verbally obliterating the very concept of film criticism, after reading a positive review no less. It’s almost as if film is trying to destroy any critique before it turns up, making those who would dare say anything about it seem like petulant idiots who don’t know what they’re talking about. So, OK movie, you can think whatever you want about this review or any review that you receive but the honest truth about this film is that it’s a repetitive irritating slog that only works because John David Washington and Zendaya have enough talent that they could be yelling gibberish at each other and it would be compelling.
The structure of the film is literally “Character goes for a piss, starts talking, has argument, storms off, Marie appears to vanish, repeat process until 106 minutes runs out”. You can almost set your watch to it, it’s a perpetual motion machine that’s designed to show us the worst sides of both main characters. It’s like when you have a dinner party and invite that couple you barely know and they turn up continuing an argument they began at home and the argument becomes so intense that you want to leave, even though it’s your house. That feeling is this movie, I wanted to walk out and it was on Netflix in my home on my TV in my bedroom… that’s how uncomfortable that fight made me.
You know that massive fight at the end of Marriage Story where Adam Driver’s character screams that he would wake up and wish his wife were dead? Imagine that scene repeated 5 times in a row with a black and white filter over the top, you have this film. Of course this isn’t a filter, they just shot it on black and white film because… uh… reasons. The film itself argues against the idea that there’s any deep meaning needed, so I’m going to just assume it’s because no one could be fucking bothered to do colour correction later on and wanted to save some time in the editing room.
Each of the arguments that make up this film alternates between both characters screaming “FUCK YOU” at each other in as many different ways that they can come up with and doing page long monologues about mental health or why they’re upset or any other random thing that comes along. The fights never get physical, but oh god is this one toxic relationship between two people who we are never asked to care about or even shown why we should tolerate them for 20 minutes, let alone 106. It’s the destruction of a relationship without the part where they make us understand why they got together in the first place.
Now, this doesn’t mean the film is totally unwatchable. The thing that ALMOST makes this work, despite the actual content of the dialogue, is the two actors who just carry everything. I’ve gushed about John David Washington before when he was in BlacKkKlansman and here he’s genuinely incredible, using every ounce of passion and talent that he has in order to keep the viewer’s attention. The real revelation here is Zendaya, which shouldn’t be a shock since she’s worked with this writer/director before on Euphoria where she won the first award that she needs for the inevitable EGOT that she’s destined to get. Seriously, I might not like the film but I love what Zendaya is doing in it. It’s an astounding range and control of emotions, almost on a dime she can go from the angriest human being you’ve ever seen to quiet and emotionally destroyed. She’s the reason to see this film.
Sadly, she might be the only real reason to see this film because everything else just doesn’t work. It’s self-indulgent and feels like it’s an inside joke that’s being told to people who aren’t in on why it’s funny. A lot of “inside Hollywood” stuff is thrown around and I’m sure when it comes time to show this to other people in the industry, they’ll get it all, that feeling of strange unreasonable anger over a good review that mistakes a dolly shot for a Steadicam shot or the awkwardness of forgetting to thank someone important. I’m sure to people in the business this film works on a whole other level… outside that business, it’s two rich pretty people arguing with each other because everyone thinks they’re geniuses and that’s just not interesting.
Malcolm & Marie is a great display of acting talent by two impossibly great actors who both deserve endless praise for their work… it’s just a shame that their work has to be in a film that feels designed to irritate. If I want to watch an hour and a half of people yelling at each other for stupid reasons, I’ll put on Jerry Springer because at least then I might see someone throw a punch and the topic is more interesting than “My film is great, aren’t I just the best?”