Writer and director of the hit drama series “Euphoria”, Sam Levinson, brought “Malcolm & Marie” to Netflix on Feb. 5th. Zendaya stars alongside John David Washington in this black and white drama-romance film shot on 35mm as a tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema.
The couple arrives back at their secluded modern ranch house, surrounded by rolling hills and wildflowers after the premiere of Malcolm’s (Washington) debut film. Marie (Zendaya), a model and former actor, hastily makes Malcolm mac n’ cheese while he is celebrating with a drink and James Brown’s “Down And Out in New York City”. Tensions rise as Marie keeps quiet after Malcolm’s persistent questioning of her silence…they should be celebrating, after all! Finally, Marie lets loose and addresses the fact that Malcolm thanked about 80 people in his speech, except her. A relatively surface level problem explodes into a treacherous and deeply personal argument between the two. The fight develops in waves, first Malcolm says something that makes you “side” with him, then Marie drops a bomb about Malcolm’s behavior and character and you begin to agree with her and the cycle continues into the early hours of the morning. Painful moments of the past are resurrected and the two insult and slash each other in absurd and frankly insane ways. Issues brought up in the fight concern relationship differences between men and women, film critics, directing as a Black man, drug addiction, recovery, authenticity, struggle, inspiration, truth, and love versus necessity.
Mentions of classic films such as “The Best Years of Our Lives” and “Citizen Kane” paired with the mention of modern films such as “Moonlight” display detail and respect for old cinema that is reflected in the film through the lighting, set and costume. The black and white color was a calm juxtaposition against the cruel arguments. The absence of color allowed for less distraction by setting around the characters and displayed the emotion on the faces of Malcolm and Marie in depth. The lighting inside the house is bright and overhanging, purging the problems both have been holding in. The black and white aspect was done completely right in this film. The house itself is set beside a huge tree and wild grasses backlit by what seems to be a car headlight. I enjoyed the set, as it was a beautiful modern home that felt comfortable, not cold or empty. Marie’s beautiful slip dress and dark mysterious makeup look at the beginning contrasted with her wet hair and pajamas at the end of the movie is a beautiful transition from the “put together” couple to the exhausted and tired couple after the strenuous fight. Marie’s ability to completely change outfits throughout the movie, while Malcolm only takes off his blazer and into pajamas at the end of the movie is interesting in relation to their feelings towards one another.
The script felt personal, like Levinson was talking through Malcolm, which occasionally seemed unnatural and very calculated. A lot of Levinson’s personal experience with the film industry is depicted in the script. I would make the argument that Marie’s character was written much better than Malcolm’s, as her problems were more accessible while Malcolm’s were more specific. If you are looking for Levinson’s better writing, I would direct you to “Euphoria Special Episode: Rue”, which in my opinion, has excellent writing.
The acting in “Malcolm and Marie” was magnificent and Zendaya’s intense performance was Oscar-worthy, in my opinion.
As much as I enjoyed this film, the back and forth arguing got to be a little tiring after the first hour, and I had to take a short break. Overall, I would recommend this film to those who appreciate black and white movies and are willing to endure lots of intense screaming and shouting.
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