A wild ride. Raw. Emotional. Brilliant. Oscar-worthy.
That’s the most succinct way I can summarize the 106 minutes of one of the most intense and well-done movies I’ve seen in a long time.
However, those few words barely graze the surface of what I want to say about Malcolm & Marie and the movie that made me feel things I didn’t want to feel and left me agonizing in my head over the couple's relationship and what would become of it. I have a love-hate relationship with this film.
Malcolm & Marie Review – It’s a Wild Ride
On the surface, I loved the film. The cinematography, the artistry, the grainy film noir black-and-white romantic drama Sam Levinson created that Zendaya and John David Washington sold us, and I mean SOLD US. Their performances were flawless, Oscar-worthy. But it’s what they sold us that I struggle with and don’t want to buy.
It was riveting, like watching a train wreck but you can’t turn away, though difficult to watch the toxicity on screen.
My intent is not to include spoilers, but I will be including context as to why I’m disappointed in certain parts of the movie. Proceed at your own risk.
Not Everything is Political, or is it?
One of the key themes woven throughout this film is the existence of intrinsic bias, in this case, that the work of a black man can not be understood by a white woman. Sometimes a film is just a film.
I’m not some film writer making it about race because it’s convenient…I’m choosing to make a film that is political, but not everything I make is political because I’m black. -Malcolm
Commentary on Critics in Malcolm & Marie
While as a whole, I believe Malcolm's ranting about critics and journalists is a bit over the top, it’s also a bit amusing and certainly not entirely invalid.
If I were a betting (white) woman, I would wager that Levinson’s choice in Malcolm lashing out at a “white girl in the LA Times” is a rib at Katie Walsh’s negative and controversial (albeit well written) review of Levinson’s last film, Assassination Nation.
The Dilemma with Malcolm & Marie
We meet the couple, Malcolm and Marie, portrayed by John David Washington and Zendaya, as they arrive home on the night of the premiere of his movie.
The moment they walk into the house, Marie looks irritated. He’s talking to her from across the house with the music on while she’s in the bathroom and she says, “I can’t hear you.” Raise your hand if that’s happened to you at least once today. He’s clearly on a high from the evening as a whole, dancing. She heads to the kitchen to make some mac and cheese (still in her gown).
As the next little bit of the movie progresses he’s ranting about the night, the critics (in particular, a “white girl from the LA Times”), and he knows she’s irritated and he presses her. Finally, she tells him why. He didn’t thank her in his speech.
From here, the rest of the movie is a beautiful mess. In a good and bad way. The chemistry these two actors have is uncanny. They portray a couple who is clearly in love—madly, deeply in love at points, but also in an extremely troubled and toxic relationship—and this is the part I can’t buy.
Every verbally abusive gaslighting relationship I’ve ever witnessed or been a part of is exhibited in the remaining 85 minutes of the film.
If you can’t relate to this, you are oh so lucky. If you can, then I’m truly sorry. Because you know how challenging it is to escape and how traumatizing it can be. I dated someone in college for a year who never once laid a hand on me, but he verbally and mentally abused me and it was soul-crushing. Fortunately, I managed to escape that relationship but not all people do.
It’s easy to see in the way Malcolm carries on about the critics, especially the “white girl from the LA Times,” that he’s clearly a narcissist. He can’t say a single nice thing about any of the critics, even the ones who had nice things to say about his work, and he has to mock them all, even being condescending by calling the one a “girl” and calling them all pedantic.
Marie isn’t allowed to be upset about his forgetting to thank her. She’s not allowed to have feelings or change her mind. And the fact that the main character in his movie is in no way, shape, or form not at least partially informed or inspired by her you know is a complete lie he’s trying to sell her by the time you finish the movie.
Do you think the movie would be as good as it is if we weren’t together? -Marie // No. -Malcolm
The rage. The belittling. Marie recognizes it at some points and acknowledges that she doesn’t know why she sticks around. And Malcolm goes back to complimenting her and luring her back in when she’s at her weakest. Sure, she has a few manipulative moments thrown in, but it’s 90% his narcism and 10% her self-preservation.
Anyone who has ever been in a relationship with an abusive narcissist like this gets it, down to the time when she asked him to leave the room and he wouldn't, to when he followed her into the bathroom while she was at her most naked and vulnerable in the bathtub and he was still yelling.
Watch Malcolm & Marie
I’m not saying throw the baby out with the bathwater. I still loved this movie and encourage everyone to watch it. It’s love, life, art, all wrapped into one smoldering, stunning package.
I'm simply disappointed there was no resolution to the abusive component of the relationship. Kiss and make up for the umpteenth time because he promises they are good for each other and he loves her isn't the message we should be sending when filmmakers have a chance to do better.
About Malcolm & Marie
Sam Levinson teams up with Zendaya and John David Washington for an achingly romantic drama in which a filmmaker (Washington) and his girlfriend (Zendaya) return home following a celebratory movie premiere as he awaits what’s sure to be imminent critical and financial success. The evening suddenly takes a turn as revelations about their relationships begin to surface, testing the strength of their love. Working with cinematographer Marcell Rev, Levinson creates a film of rare originality; an ode to the great Hollywood romances as well as a heartfelt expression of faith in the medium's future.