Malcolm & Marie, directed by Sam Levinson is currently steaming on Netflix.
At the outset, Malcolm & Marie seems promising. From the moment Zendaya walks into the screen in a glittery long down, closely followed by John David Washington, I am invested in the lives of the characters. I want to know who they are, what they're upto, and from where they're coming home. I am sucked into their lives, their luxurious home, and the music John plays — it appears everything is going on for them. Until it isn't. Malcolm, a filmmaker and Marie, his muse come home from his movie premiere night and a successful one at that — a night Malcolm claims to be the biggest day of his life.
As he prances around the room, glossing over the details of the night — of how the reviewers spoke to him, about his leading actress, about his speech, the reviews, Marie stands on the porch, smoking, clearly looking disinterested and wanting him to stop. Soon she moves into the kitchen to make Mac and cheese, and by now, you know something's bothering her. So does Malcolm. He asks her if something's wrong, urges, but she says, "nothing I say tonight will be productive". You think she's wise (Wait for things to unravel). While what leads up to this conversation is Malcolm's speech where he forgets to thank Marie, there's already too much to unpack in this relationship. Malcolm's feature film is based on Marie's life in many ways so you'd think it's natural for her to be pissed when he doesn't thank her because she feels insulted and unacknowledged. But as the movie progresses, you realise how toxic their relationship is, where both of them offer no breathing space to each other.
Almost 40 minutes into the movie, I caught myself wondering where's this going? Has the filmmaker got a plan or is he going to suffocate his audience with a bland story just like Malcolm suffocates Marie with his monologues. And I am not looking for a takeaway from the movie but I would have liked to see it go somewhere. Anywhere. Or have an alternate ending. An ending where Marie walks away from Malcolm. That doesn't happen, they're stuck together and as a viewer, I was emotionally exhausted.
Shot during the pandemic, this movie did remind me of the increase in the number of abusive relationships during the lockdown. When a couple is confined to their home — and good lord, Malcolm and Marie's house is situated between nowhere — there's no escape from an abusive partner. There are moments in the movie when you want to punch Malcolm; Marie is relatively more likeable because she is vulnerable and dependant on Malcolm which sort of gives him the notion that he can treat her poorly. For instance, there's a scene where Marie is lying in a bathtub, and Malcolm denies that the leading lady's character in his feature film, Imani is based on her. And then, he goes on and on about all the women he has dated and the traits he has...erm stolen from them for his character. There's nothing to gloat about, and although it's established that a writer seeks inspiration from the people they meet, you'd still find him cold and pathetic in how he decides to deliver his message or even own up to it. Besides, there's another moment in the movie where after a fight, he calls Marie a fucking mental patient. Dude, your whole movie is based on mental health, and here you are, sitting on a million-dollar porch, abusing your partner about her mental health.
Sam Levinson was celebrated for making Euphoria but Malcolm & Marie isn't in that league. Even Zendaya's screen presence couldn't do much to salvage this movie that had a full potential. Instead, it dealt with emotional abuse, insecurities with such a surface-level standpoint that it came across half-baked. Rushed. And even pointless. But thanks for the choice of the music — that was solid!