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Malcolm & Marie review - actorly grandstanding in beautiful black and white | reviews, news & interviews

Malcolm & Marie review - actorly grandstanding in beautiful black and white

Malcolm & Marie review - actorly grandstanding in beautiful black and white

Airless two-hander made under the restrictions of the pandemic

Marie (Zendaya) giving a piece of her mind to Malcolm (John David Washington)

Do you want to spend 105 minutes trapped in a house with two people arguing, or do you already feel that your life under lockdown is quite quarrelsome and claustrophobic enough? If your answer is the former, then Malcolm & Marie is the perfect movie for you.

Everyone else might be happier escaping elsewhere (I’d recommend Call My Agent if you want to enjoy actors talking about their trade. At least you get some exterior Paris scenes and lashings of wit). 

But let’s get back to the matter in hand. Forced to put their TV series Euphoria on hold because of covid restrictions, Zendaya and writer-director Sam Levinson devised this huis clos drama as a two-hander with John David Washington. Shot with a small crew on one location in Malibu over the summer, it’s an impressive enterprise. Malcolm (Washington) is a director returning from the premiere of his latest film, energised but also infuriated by the praise he’s received. Marie (Zendaya) is his long-term girlfriend, seething with resentment because he didn’t thank her in his speech. It’s late, they’re dressed to the nines and the house they are staying in (courtesy of the production company) is the height of chic, but the decor is just the backdrop for a long night of accusations and making-up and arguing again. 

You know what kind of "authentic" film you’re watching when Marie hitches up her slinky evening gown and plomps herself down on the toilet and carries on talking to Malcolm through the open door. At another point she leaves the house entirely; Malcolm wanders the darkened garden trying to find her. When she eventually emerges, she claims to have been having a pee behind a tree. I blame Fleabag for the tendency to signal an actress's bravery with scenes atop toilets, but doubtless there’s some peeing pedant out there who will come up with an earlier instance. All this micturition (Malcolm has a wee scene too) made me puzzled by how little they actually drank. I began to worry that I may need a new career in urology...Malcolm & Marie has an excellent soundtrack – jazz and soul interleaved with editorialising songs (William Bell’s I Forgot to be Your Lover and Dionne Warwick’s Get Rid of Him). It’s beautifully shot on Kodak Double-X, the monochrome film stock famed for its inky depths. And Zendaya is remarkable, showing a range (particularly in the second hour), which left me longing to see her perform in a film with a more interesting premise. Unfortunately the character Washington is playing is irritatingly self-absorbed and repetitive. It’s hard to judge the actor’s performance when all you want is for Malcolm to stop grandstanding his rage at the critics who write so inadequately about his oeuvre

Other film critics have focused delightedly on the long stretches of Malcolm & Marie which excoriate reviewers, thrilled that a filmmaker like Levinson would show his pain at a panning. Maybe it makes critics feel important to see themselves attacked on screen. But does an actual audience care? Most people read reviews beforehand to find out if a film is worth their time, or afterwards to see if someone else agrees with them; movie write-ups aren’t manifestos for changing the world. And there’s certainly a debate to be had about white critics patronising black creatives, but should it be coming from a white writer-director like Levinson? 

Levinson has cited Joseph Losey, Antonioni and Edward Albee as inspirations for Malcolm & Marie so it’s a shame that his film has ended up looking like a mash-up of Marriage Story, a Calvin Klein underwear ad and a lengthy show-reel for Zendaya and Washington. Both performers are good, but trapped with them in that luxury house for way too long, I kept hoping there was a parasitic basement out of which another cast of characters would emerge and give the film a little oxygen and humour. 

Marie hitches up her slinky evening gown and plomps herself down on the toilet


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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