Right off the bat, “Malcolm and Marie” felt like an Oscars grab, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
But it needs to be said, because that was the direction and motivation of this movie: to get Zendaya, John Washington David, or Sam Levison an Oscars nomination. I think they’re all talented enough to one day win an Oscar, but “Malcolm and Marie” might not be the vehicle for that.
I went into “Malcolm and Marie” with excitement, but at the half-way mark, I just wanted Malcolm and Marie to go to bed. “Malcolm and Marie” isn’t bad, but what is so frustrating about it is that it never becomes great. It cusps being fantastic.
“Malcolm and Marie” begins the night after the premiere of Malcolm’s film. During his opening speech, Malcom forgot to thank his partner Marie — a big no-no in Hollywood. The movie uses the snafu as it’s jumping point and dives into their torrid relationship.
The movie is a relationship reaching the boiling point, on a night where all the conflict comes to a head. “Malcolm and Marie” was written and filmed during the pandemic and had a small team on production.
The film is absolutely gorgeous, which is one of its greatest features. Black and white is catnip to the Oscars and Film Academy, but the use of such a filter is also an excellent artistic choice because it breaks down both Malcolm and Marie. It empties the room of any visual distractions, and forces the viewer to hones in on the personality of the two characters. The use of black and white created an open space where everything is put on the table. Stylistically, it’s brilliant.
Zendaya and David are breathtaking. They sell the complexity of this relationship and the depth of their characters. They are the reason “Malcolm and Marie” is able to get to the finish line, and if there were going to be any Oscar nominations for this film, it would be for Best Actress/Actor.
Zendaya keeps proving why all eyes should be kept on her. I don’t think enough attention is brought to what makes her accomplishments this year so impressive and what it says about her talent. Zendaya is growing as an actress within a generation that recognizes her for childhood roles. Zendaya has an image of innocence due to her Disney days, and now wants to transition to more adult-like and sophisticated roles.
Her transition from those projects to the likes of “Malcolm and Marie” and “Euphoria” are impressive. Not many would be able to do what she did.
The problem with “Malcolm and Marie” that stopped it from reaching its full potential is the script. The script’s problems would most likely have been solved if it had been put in a drawer for two to three months and re-read. The soup needed to simmer a little longer.
The two leads can act their hearts out, but when the conversations sound less realistic and more like a first-year Creative Writing major’s fanfiction, no acting can save it. When you’re in the middle of a brutal fight with your loved ones, you don’t whip out a thesaurus and make your case with the most complicated synonyms you can find.
“Malcolm and Marie” feels like a kiddie roller coaster at Six Flags. The momentum seems like it’s building up, except when it gets to its peak, it fizzles out and doesn’t give you the rush you were expecting.
I think a good friend of mine said it best: “Malcolm and Marie” showed what each partner contributed to the other earlier in the relationship but doesn’t give a good reason as to why they stay together now. There’s a lot of history to this relationship, and the viewer sees the worst of it. There’s a bit too much going on in the film and just too many fights that don’t contribute anything significant to the picture as a whole.
I think that if Levison focused on the dysfunctional relationship alone, then this might be a different story. But the relationship was not the only conversation taking place during “Malcolm and Marie.” There’s also another discussion about the role of race in Hollywood. The gears were just switched too fast at certain parts, and it felt like the story was fighting with itself at certain beats.
When the trailer for “Malcolm and Marie” came out, I thought this was going to be a film that made me uncomfortable. I anticipated a raw and unbridled feeling—the kind of uncomfortable human emotion that is so rarely felt in the entertainment industry. While watching, I was uncomfortable, but for a different reason — I was bored. I was waiting for the ride to reach the top of the hill and start its descent, but it just sat at the climax.
“Malcolm and Marie” is right: there are dysfunctional relationships that have endless arguments where neither partner is looking for an out. When you get into a fight with your loved ones, you can spit out awful, hurtful, and hateful things, thus creating an unproductive and unhealthy cycle. I think it’s fine that there’s no resolution or stunning revelation to this story, because, truth be told, that’s not realistic for a dysfunctional relationship.
The problem with “Malcolm and Marie” is that it tells us about this very complicated relationship, but doesn’t show why we should care.