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Malcolm & Marie 2021 Movie Review Poster Trailer Online
Director: Sam Levinson
Writer: Sam Levinson
Stars: John David Washington, Zendaya
The discourse surrounding Malcolm & Marie is likely to be as heated and polarised as the many arguments that make up Sam Levinson’s monochrome exercise in perfume-ad cool. It’s a sexy as all hell, single location stage-play which walks a very fine line between alienating self-indulgence and unavoidable tedium, which keeps its balance largely thanks to a stunning performance from Zendaya.
The opening twenty minutes are excellent. The entirety of Malcolm & Marie feels like a short film writ large, and this initial gambit captures everything that’s great about the movie. The power found in this sequence in which our young lovers return from a successful movie premiere in an antithesis of moods lays in what’s left unsaid. They’re occupying the same physical space, but due to a combination of silent pauses and distant looks, largely from Zendaya’s Marie, they couldn’t feel further apart. It’s tense, awkward, and carries a burgeoning sense of unease at the thought this steam cooker could be about to whistle and blow at any point.
When it does eventually give, what was an exercise in controlled restraint and beautifully shot voyeurism into this couple’s strange life, quickly evolves into a monologue heavy two-hander in which they’re unforgivably mean to one-another, over-and-over again, to the point where you’d rather look away or go into another room.
They spit verbiage on their sexual escapades, vices, bodies, race, film-criticism, and they do so with a passion and power that makes you feel the point of the barb from the films harshest of lines, but after while it’s too exhausting to care about what they’re saying. You end up feeling like a third person in the relationship, which on one hand is an achievement in immersion, but spending nearly two-hours with them is something of an endurance test.
Ensuring that you stay beyond the aggressively eaten macaroni and cheese (you’ll see) are two career-best performances from Washington and Zendaya. He flips between this easy-to-watch laid-back energy and a hyperactive opposite whenever the script lights his fuse, quickly snapping into poetic anger that can be electrifying and intimidating. However, performance wise he exists in the shadow of Zendaya, whose Marie demands your attention with the low-key way in which she imbues her character with layers to chip away at. This could be a silent movie (and probably better for it without all of the pontificating) and she’d still convey more than most actors do with reams of dialogue.
In fact, some of the clearest means of communication between Malcolm & Marie is via their choice of music. If the wordplay exchanges are sometimes too painful (in every sense of the word) to endure, then rest-assured the soundtrack is one to see you through 2021.
What makes this ode to disharmony bearable is that the two people taking target practice at each other are played by Oakland’s Zendaya and “Tenet’s” John David Washington.
Both are tremendous as muse and creator rejoicing and bickering after what Malcolm (Washington) declares — a number of shouted times — “the biggest night of my life,” the Hollywood premiere for a film of which he is writer, producer and director, and which he sees as his possible big breakthrough.
But this is not destined to be joyous night from the minute Marie and Malcolm return to their artfully designed Malibu home and they start to tear into each other. Even a mac-and-cheese snack turns into a defiant act.
The 20-year-old Marie (Zendaya) is understandably upset that Malcolm didn’t thank her in his onstage remarks during the premiere, especially after he gushed about everyone else. Since her story inspired his movie — about a drug-addicted young woman spiraling down without a safety net — you can see why she’s miffed.
It is that snub that triggers falling Dominos of outrage, with insecure monologues about craft, racism, sexism, ambition, appropriation, critics and relationships. Spike Lee’s name gets referenced. So does Swiss-German director William Wyler’s.
While it’s refreshing to see a contemporary spin on the issues at hand, “Malcom & Marie” doesn’t say much more than these two people are miserable. So, we’re left absorbing the all-to-familiar scenes of a rocky relationship. Ingmar Bergman catalogued the self-destruction of a relationship so well in “Scenes of a Marriage,” and Woody Allen observed it with his “Interiors.” Writer Sam Levinson draws on those Hollywood films, to the point of shooting “M&M” in stunning black and white, a contrast to the anything-but-clear conversations that ensue.
But he doesn’t take this project much further than that, meaning that this film emerges as mainly a series of verbal thrusts and parries, with the occasional walk or venture outside for a smoke thrown in. Most of “M&M” consists of conversations and jabs, and they pile on so thick that it all becomes uninteresting. Worse yet, they often feel inauthentic — and this is a film that is all about authenticity.
Still, Levinson is a talented director and screenwriter. He draws out two of these stars’ best performances. He worked with Zendya on HBO’s “Euphoria,” so he knows she can convey a lot of emotions — one scene of her sitting in a bathtub as she literally soaks in Malcolm’s monologue expresses more than dialogue can. It’s a beautiful scene.
And it is in these wordless reactions when “Malcolm & Marie” says a lot more than words can. You just wish there were more moments like that. Instead, Levinson spills forth a stampede of words, each colliding into each other to create a literate erudite stew that sounds phony at times.
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