Malcolm And Marie Review: Zendaya and John David Washington Shine in an Underwhelming Netflix Original

Malcolm and Marie was released on Netflix about a week ago, the original starring Zendaya (Marie) and John David Washington (Malcolm) follows a dysfunctional couple returning home from Malcolm’s film premiere. Things quickly get heated between the stubborn and emotionally distant filmmaker and his ex drug addict turned actor partner whom claims she was the basis of his film’s success before being discarded without any thanks.

A story told in almost real time, the two go back and fourth throughout the course of the film going deeper and deeper into personal attacks of character and uncovering the true nature of their relationship that goes far deeper than Malcolm failing to thank Marie at the premiere. Each segment being swiftly cut up with periods of briefly calm interactions before the flurry of raised voices and verbal abuse.

Malcolm and Marie is an intriguing concept from it’s outlook, but in many ways falls short in attempt to be something that it isn’t and in the end coming off as more pretentious than purposeful. For starters the entire film is shot on Kodak and in black and white, there is no explanation for that decision as far as the actual film goes as it seems to be set in the modern day with phones and various other modern devices shown throughout. The language is modern and the setting (whilst limited to just one place) is without doubt modern in its architecture and design.

So why film this in black and white?

The only practical reason that I can muster for the choice is the production going with the black and white feel as some form of comment on the nature of both relationships and life itself being at the surface level black and white but inherently complex should you dig a little deeper. Whilst this is a considerable point to make, it just doesn’t make sense in a film so evidently trying to reject the idea of unnecessarily politicism in the art form. Malcolm spends big portions of the film just ranting about the problem with the industry’s need to constantly politicize and find social impact in every film that comes out, which is why the choice for Malcolm and Marie to film in black and white is just a bit strange.

The crux of the film from the outside is promising but although there are some quality moments sprinkled across Malcolm and Marie the film just doesn’t pack the emotional punch it so desires in it’s subject matter. There are a lot of different reasons for this, whilst the back and forth between Zendaya and John David Washington as Malcolm and Marie is impressive it starts to lose it’s kick after a while and you end up losing the feeling of suspense or intrigue and rather find yourself on a merry-go-round of a heated statement from either Malcolm or Marie, followed by a calm or even inexplicably happy period which then loops back to the other producing some abuse of their own.

Rather than packing the emotional impact that seems to be intended from a film like this Malcolm and Marie loses it’s novelty fairly quickly and feels more like watching an emotionally based yet still pretentious debate of ideals rather than a gut-wrenching exploration of the implicit issues that Malcolm and Marie find in their relationship and that some viewers may find in their own.

However, there certainly are some heavy hitting lines and more than valid points made throughout the film and the back and forth is definitely entertaining however in a film so rooted in the dialogue it’s important to also consider what that dialogue is actually attempting to achieve/convey and in the case of Malcolm and Marie it seems to fall short of the mark.

Zendaya and John David Washington clearly gave this piece the best that they possibly could and in many ways the successes that it does have is due to their personal performances, even if the production itself is somewhat mediocre. Zendaya puts on the role of a now sober drug-addict turned actress who is intelligent yet equally mentally estranged and traumatized by her past life, a tough role to take on in a film centralized around dialogue and body language rather than setting or chronological events, but Zendaya has proved her worth once again as a far more flexible actress than many may choose to accept her as.

John David Washington seemed the perfect fit for his role as ‘Malcolm’, an emotionally devoid man-child yet creative intellect whom seems to put his artform above all else and suffers personally from it. You can’t help but get attached to Malcolm in some way throughout the film and for a character with so many fundamental flaws you can only say that feeling is due to such a fine effort on the actors part.

Points made about politics, social climate and society as a whole aside, Malcolm and Marie at it’s core is a film about the nature of love itself, yes that nature is explored through one particular story of love but it is clear that Malcolm and Marie is attempting to do more than just tell a story but rather comment on the intensely complex and dysfunctional nature of love itself through the intensely complex and equally dysfunctional nature of Malcolm and Marie’s partnership. Is this concept executed to the best of it’s ability absolutely not but with two fine actors putting in performances far outweighing the script itself, Malcolm and Marie is not an entire waste of time.

Watching the interactions between Malcolm and Marie throughout the course of the film swing back and forth, teetering between straight up emotional nuclear warfare and love for the other is extraordinary to see and the jagged changes of pace (whilst becoming quite predicable over time) will hold your interest enough to still appreciate Malcolm and Marie for what it is.

What really is able to push this film just above mediocrity is the underlying topicality and the clever dialogue (mostly out of Malcolm) that is put across in a both comedically charming yet also thoughtful manner, questions of political correctness, the status quo of the film industry, the basis of what ‘art’ truly is and questions on the basis of human existence itself are littered throughout the back and forth between Malcolm and Marie. The argument about whether or not much of the consideration of foreign idea’s outside the crux of the film is necessary is of course one to consider but although an element of comedy is present in much of that dialogue, Malcolm and Marie contains plenty of truth said in jest.

Malcolm and Marie has all the tools to put on an impressive display, and though leaving much to be desired despite the quality performances from both Zendaya and John David Washington is still an experience worth undertaking. It is the various moments that make Malcolm and Marie worthwhile rather than the culmination of all it’s parts and taking this film for what it is rather than what it attempts to be is the best course of action upon hitting play.

5.5/10

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