This entertaining drama expresses its words through yelling and bantering.
“Malcolm & Marie” is not based on a play, but it feels like it should become a play, because it just features John David Washington and Zendaya trading words with each other under the same roof after midnight. It’s also noteworthy as the first film to be produced and financed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now this is some social distancing, so no yelling from Tom Cruise. Leave that to these leads.
Written and directed by Sam Levinson (son of Barry Levinson), the movie is filmed in black and white. Cinematographer Marcell Rev and the Fotokem company make the conversations and fights look fascinating. They have atmosphere, tone, and scope, and they remind us of how modern day black and white film capture the magic of classic films. In fact, it feels like it was made in the 70s or 90s.
They produce themselves as the title characters, who both return from a premiere of the movie Malcolm directed. He returns home expressing his pride about being the next Spike Lee and refusing to let bad reviews bring him down. Marie is mad at him for forgetting to thank her during his speech, even though he apologized countless times. She changed her mind about forgiving him after all the people he thanked commented on her being neglected. And she’s also mad at him for making the movie based on her life as a drug addict, and not casting her in the role.
The movie begins a pattern for them. They fight, they make out, they have simple conversations, fight, relax, and then more yelling ensues. The most expressive outburst is when Malcolm criticizes a while, female Los Angeles Times critic for how she praised his film. She calls it “a genuine masterwork,” but he knows she didn’t see the movie the way he saw it when he created it. Marie just tells him he gets crazy every time he gets a positive review. Actors and filmmakers do look at film critics in various ways, so it was quite exciting for me to see how this filmmaker character examines them.
The movie does lag during its make-out scenes, because when they brainstorm movie ideas, I feel like it’s the sex taking. But aside from that, “Malcolm & Marie” explodes with great intensity. Washington and Zendaya both give profound performances, as they put all their time and effort in making the characters likable and unlikable at the same time. I mean that in the sense that they say good and bad things about each other, and yet somehow, they both manage to connect well. Each argument lasts about 5 or 10 or 15 minutes or even longer or shorter. It all depends on how the movie wants to explore them.
Step by step, the movie features arguments and compliments, and the true colors of them both. You need to sit in your seat and patiently acknowledge how these two characters live and why they went in certain directions. Levinson (who also guided Zendaya on HBO’s “Euphoria”) presents this movie in the style of a play, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one day it became one.
Now Playing in Select Theaters
Streaming Next Friday on Netflix