Written within 6 days and shot in dazzling black and white monochrome over two weeks of strict COVID-19 guidelines, Malcolm & Marie is a great technical achievement that fails to offer much more than long arguments disguised as valid complaints about the pretentiousness of film criticism. Yet in doing so it becomes pretentious art.
The last black and white film I watched was December's Mank, so going into this there was certainly no high expectation. I have a strong aversion to the overly grandiose Mank and Malcolm & Marie... isn’t too far off that either.
John David Washington and Zendaya star as the titular couple: a film director in the aftermath of accepting a prestigious award and his girlfriend, unmentioned in the acceptance speech. That fact alone starts these two self-indulged characters (and the film itself) on a downward spiral that forces them to question the very nature of their 5-year-long relationship.
Because it’s just two characters in one location it's a nicely contained story. All the time is spent exploring these characters and, unlike Washington’s last film (Tenet), there aren’t too many things going on to stop you from connecting to them on some level.
But that's part of the big problem I have with Malcolm & Marie. Although it gives us plenty of time to enjoy these two actors, the novelty and substance of their argument wears thin all too quickly.
It goes without saying that these two are extremely capable actors. Their chemistry and charisma is hard to escape and they're particularly enjoyable to watch in these roles. They clearly had a lot of fun with the power struggles going on in the film and it shows. John David Washington is the stand out, the way he seemingly flicks switches and becomes a different kind of presence altogether is what keeps you invested for the most part.
There are some really interesting views on race, film criticism and how films should just be a fun and creative endeavour. The pretentious exploration of politics by film critics was properly torn apart, but for a film that preaches about having fun with filmmaking and not getting involved in the politics of 'why' a film is made, it ends up going too far and straying into the realm of self aware, self indulgent art that is itself focusing on the 'why'.
The bottom line is, Malcolm & Marie is a bit boring. It looks great, Labrinth's soundtrack is great, and the acting is all great. But there’s only so much arguing I can take in a film. For the opening 40 minutes it's quite impressive and you’re left wondering about the many places this film could go. But it doesn’t go far at all.
The monologues (the ones that aren't rants) come off more as inflated Shakespearian soliloquies. Not in the poeticism of the writing but the fact that they’re more for the audience than the characters. It feels unnatural when they express their feelings far too eloquently for the heat of an argument.
Malcolm & Marie successfully invites us to explore this psychoanalysis of a very unhealthy couple, but tonight all these two are doing is repetitively getting passively and then actively aggressive at one another over and over again. That’s Malcolm & Marie. It's true, that’s what fights are like a lot of the time. It just gets boring to watch after a while.
It’s far from the best film ever made. In fact, this is yet another fairly forgettable Netflix original. But considering Malcolm & Marie was made during the height of a global pandemic, it is a big achievement.
Anyone who has been a part of any kind of relationship will get what this film is saying, but it says it in the first act and then keeps saying it over and over again. I'm sure lots of people will love Malcolm & Marie, in fact a lot of audiences do. It just didn't have any profound impact on me.
So... Any Good? It might get a ‘best picture’ nomination in April... it might get no awards at all. It’s got glimmers of greatness, just nothing particularly memorable.
Malcolm & Marie is now available to stream on Netflix