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Malcolm and Marie Review: John David Washington and Zendaya Bare It to Their Bones in This Challenging Watch

Malcolm and Marie Review: John David Washington and Zendaya Bare It to Their Bones in This Challenging Watch

Malcolm and Marie starring Zendaya and John David Washington is challenging and exhausting, but that is only because it is stemmed in the truth.

Malcolm and Marie

Cast: Zendaya, John David Washington

Director: Sam Levinson

John David Washington and Zendaya, two of the most sought after stars in Hollywood right now, got together for a little black-and-white movie and screamed at each other for two hours straight. In the recent past, we have seen one of them crash a real airplane into a building and travel back and forth in time via the bizzare concept of 'inverted entropy,' while the other literally created history by being the youngest person to ever pick up an Emmy. In Malcolm and Marie, they strip down to their bare bones, in a world devoid of colour, and suddenly they are not superstars anymore.

Malcolm and Marie, directed by Euphoria and Assasination Nation fame Sam Levinson, is the story of the eponymous couple, who work through some of their most glaring issues in the span of a single night. The story takes places after the hugely successful premiere night of Malcolm's film. However, Marie is not too eager to celebrate.

Throughout the course of this film, Malcolm and Marie say some of the ugliest, most cruel things you can ever say to your partner, make up, make out and then launch into the tirade again. From the looks of it, it feels like a cathartic activity between two heavily co-dependent people whose personal issues are entangled in their work. However, if you actually lean back in your chair and think about it for more than two seconds, you realise how it is not a level playing field at all.

From the get go, it is evident how Malcolm has more power in the equation than Marie. Marie is younger, she is a former drug-addict who he supported throughout her recovery. She is the one who cheated on he forgave. However, at the point in time the film is based on, Marie is basically the force that sustains him but one he refuses to see. For Malcolm, all that matters is if people see him as a true artist.

Malcolm and Marie, like its tagline says, is not a love story but a story of love. It is the different type of love, the one that walks the thin between passionate and toxic. It is the story of one partners relentless efforts to be seen as the others equal. It is based on truth, but we don't want to accept it. It is the one that wears the audience down, mentally and physically.

However, apart from it being a story of a complicated couple, Levinson also uses the characters as a scathing criticism of Hollywood itself. Marie's grievances are periodically interupted by Malcolm's rant against film critics. In an expletive-filled monologue he berates 'the white woman from LA Times,' a critic for giving him a good review but using terms like 'systemic racism' and 'white saviour complex' in a commercial film.

He argues that just because he is black, it doesn't mean that everything he says and does is political. He might just want to have 'fun' with his film. When the critic points out how a scene with graphic nudity feels male gaze-y, Malcolm argues that identity politics keep changing all the time. What if the director is gay, or transitioning while he is filming the movie? Does it mean he is sexualising his protagonist? He gives examples of classic films where Jewish directors wrote films about Italian immigrants and vice versa. This does seem reflective of the fact that despite the film verbatim criticising Hollywood for being a straight-white-male-centric industry, the film is written and directed by Levinson, who is in fact a straight, white male.

Marie, however has a different point-of-view. When he berates the critic, she reminds him that his next project is a biography of Angela Davis. She points out that the scene with graphic nudity comes out of his male gaze. She stresses the importance of authenticity and how that comes from representation. She points out that both the critic and she herself is trying to find good parts out of Malcolm being a mediocre filmmaker and an even worse partner.

If I should make an educated guess, Sam Levinson tries to spin a self-indulgent mind game. On one hand, he, through his character Malcolm, criticises a writer trying to find deeper meanings in a film. On the other hand, he calls his film a love story, but it really feels like a thinly-veiled commentary about filmmaking, filmmakers, film-criticism and fame. It feels like an exhaustive, endless loop. However, I suspect that making valid arguments at the behest of himself is the point.

The film stars two very talented actors who live up to their hype. Washington delivers monologue after monologue with utter perfection. He uses his entire body while he does so, making you as invested in his surroundings. On the other hand, Zendaya brings a chilling vulnerability to her act. She delivers a markedly different performance from the one in Euphoria, even though there are similarities between the characters and both projects have the same director.

Malcolm and Marie is largely an experience-based film, hence it is hard to capture its essence on paper. I personally enjoyed the film because I enjoy well-written conversations between characters. I also enjoyed how it challenged me and made it difficult for me to write this review. The film is hard to watch and might even leave you feeling hopeless. However, it is worth your patience.

Rating: 4/5

first published:February 06, 2021, 09:59 IST