‘Malcolm and Marie’ is a whiny story in pretty packaging

Photo credit: Netflix

“Malcom & Marie” is a 2021 Netflix original film that follows relationship drama between a filmmaker and his girlfriend.

Jackson Collins, Director of Visuals

The Netflix original “Malcolm and Marie” has all the ingredients of a great film, excluding the most crucial one: the script.
The movie follows filmmaker Malcolm (John David Washington), and his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya) following the premiere of Malcolm’s movie where he forgets to thank her in his speech.
Marie is understandably upset, which means the viewer has to sit through an hour and 46 minutes of excruciating arguments.
Neither Malcolm nor Marie are likable characters by any means. Both are narcissistic people who use intimate moments in each other’s pasts as ammunition for the loaded gun that is their incessant fighting.
Malcolm is particularly obnoxious because he spends a good portion of the film having a temper tantrum about movie critics.
At some point, as an audience member, I began to realize that Malcolm was a vessel for Sam Levinson, the film’s writer and director, to vent his own frustrations.
The harping on the entertainment industry as well as the references to other directors alienate most viewers. It’s blatantly obvious that this film is trying to appeal to fellow filmmakers, not the common viewer.
Upon doing further research, the “white girl from LA Times” who reviewed Malcolm’s movie-within-a-movie, was likely based on a real reviewer who had problems with Levinson’s “Assassination Nation.”
Malcolm’s monologue reads like Levinson is trying to say that anyone who’s critiquing his work doesn’t quite get it, which not only makes the character unlikable, but makes Levinson himself come across as unlikable as well.
Levinson also bites off more than he can chew by attempting to tackle the complicated subject of race.
Throughout the film, the couple spend time discussing how society views Black art as inherently political. However, the points raised are half-baked, and any nuanced criticisms circle right back to square one of arguing about how all critics suck and how Levinson is always right.
It is clear that the director is merely using a Black character as a megaphone to voice his own qualms with the entertainment industry.
This specific example is not to say that white writers can’t write Black characters, but that they shouldn’t if they’re ill equipped to do so (and especially if have their own agenda to push).
Not only was I not a fan of what Levinson wrote, but how he writes is irritating as well. It’s a shame that the writing could’ve been easily fixed with a script supervisor, which they had to do away with because of the pandemic.
The overuse of profanity is annoying to listen to. It’s incredibly noticeable that every line contains at least two of the seven words you can’t say on television. This film lives up to its R-rating, because the F-bombs are nearly constant.
However, even with the atrocious writing, there are some saving graces to this movie, particularly with the acting and cinematography.
Since the movie was shot on black and white 35mm film, it has a grainy look reminiscent of old Hollywood films. The camerawork is calm and artful, highlighting the actors’ high energy performances.
The phenomenal acting is the only reason to sit through this entire movie. Zendaya and John David Washington’s talent is on full display, and they do their best to add depth to otherwise shallow characters. They breathe so much life into this film, making the overly dramatic monologues feel engaging and more grounded in reality.
They also do a great job at making the most of such a minimalist setting, since because of Covid-19, the film was shot exclusively in a beautiful California home. The choice made for the setting does a nice job for adding to the luxurious Hollywood feel.
Despite the cranky nature of its script, “Malcolm and Marie” manages to be a salvageable film. Yet, it’s overtly clear that Levinson is a mediocre director who’s so arrogant he also thinks he’s a great writer.