Malcolm & Marie: It May Just Make You Feel Better About Your Own Love Life
Sam Levinson could have Zendaya stand in front of a green screen reading Mein Kampf for two hours and I would watch it. That being said, I tuned into Malcolm & Marie the night it premiered on Netflix. These days I try to keep my expectations in check, but a black and white drama about a struggling relationship is right in my wheelhouse. While the chemistry between Zendaya and John David Washington is undeniable, the film was a bit disappointing.
Malcolm & Marie opens somewhere in Malibu, Malcolm and Marie have just returned from an event. Zendaya walks through the door in her exquisite gown and she is a fucking vision. Her body language quickly signals she’s not happy. Malcolm pours himself a drink and starts blasting some James Brown (my kind of guy). They’re clearly on different wavelengths. We then learn they have just wrapped up his movie premiere, and it’s all downhill from there.
Riding the high from a “knockout” with the audience, Malcolm is experiencing feelings of grandeur, he is the next Spike Lee, the next Barry Jenkins. His rambling quickly delves into the impending reviews, particularly the one from the white woman at the L.A. Times. He remarks on his frustration that because he is Black and his film stars a Black woman dealing with addiction, it is automatically stamped as ‘political.’
Marie is making macaroni and cheese. I suppose the third character in Malcolm & Marie could be Kraft. There are more shots of mac and cheese in this move than I have ever seen. Malcolm adores her beautiful body while she’s standing over the stove, but she’s somewhere far away. Then, there it is. During his long list of thank you’s we’ve all seen a hundred times at award shows, he didn’t thank his god damn girlfriend.
I’m sure snubs happen more than we like to think, but we soon realize this was a snub of epic proportions. Malcolm’s film detailed the life of a 20-year-old drug addict. When he met Marie, she was a 20-year-old drug addict. It is impossible that it is a coincidence. What is just as impossible is getting him to even divulge the slightest recognition that he capitalized on his own partner’s story. This opens an entirely new set of problems the couple has had bubbling under the surface for some time. It gets into when Malcolm checked Marie into rehab, how he’s upset she gave up on acting because he doesn’t want her to hang her whole life onto his career or relapse again. If anything is clear, this is a relationship that has a lot of resentment.
They go back and forth on how Marie feels used. She believes this so strongly because she thinks he can only mimic; he could never come up with anything original. He has a college education and comes from an affluent family; he will never understand her experiences. He begins to throw some of her most shameful moments in her face. She regrets sharing so much with him. I felt this on a personal level. It’s a horrible feeling to have felt close enough to someone to disclose deeply humiliating moments with them only to have them turned back around you during a fight. Even worse for Marie, these particular moments have now been permanently put out there through her boyfriend’s art.
Suddenly the L.A. Times review is out (authored by the white woman the couple has now coined Karen). Malcolm goes off on another rant about film-making and ‘political’ films, about how cinema doesn’t need to have a message. Marie makes a quip about the reviewer, commenting, “I’m sure she loves Do The Right Thing” and I had a good laugh because I bought it this week. His tirade goes on for what feels like forever and culminates in a pretty steamy make-out session on the floor. But then has to take a leak. (Really?) This proves to be a fatal mistake because Marie is left alone with her thoughts.
By the time Malcolm returns from the can, we’re back in full fight mode. The issue of the hour is the resentment Marie feels for not being cast in the role that was clearly based on her. Snubbed again, but Malcolm points out that she was reluctant to audition, and is so scared of failure she didn’t even try. They scream at each other, and she heads to the bathroom. She stares at the medicine cabinet. Now the lines become blurred between the characters of Marie and Rue from Euphoria and those in Malcolm & Marie. She returns from the bathroom with a butcher knife. She declares she was never clean, she’s a piece of shit, she’s a liar, and he needs to tell her where the pills are. The dialogue from this scene is nearly verbatim from Euphoria, and I can’t decide if I hate it or appreciate the reference to one of my favorite TV shows.
Marie drops the knife; she was acting. Malcolm, still reeling, exclaims why she couldn’t have done that in her audition? It was authentic as fuck. They proceed to the bedroom, where even as she is preparing to go down on him, they are still talking about the god damn review. At in Malcolm & Marie this point, I am over both of them. Predictably, more arguments ensue. Marie begins to make observations about Malcolm’s glaring narcissism, and how at the root of everything, that’s why he didn’t thank her at his premiere. She then goes into a tearful monologue, saying all of the thank you’s he’s failed to give her. At this point, I tune her out because all I can focus on is how fucking beautiful Zendaya is.
They fall asleep together, but Malcolm wakes up alone. He finds Marie, outside staring into the hills. They stand next to each other, and that’s a wrap. I was left with a feeling of frustration as the credits began to roll. This film had all of the necessary pieces to be something amazing; a great director/screenwriter in Sam Levinson and the talent of two huge stars like Zendaya and John David Washington (three if you count Kraft). Perhaps this film took too seriously a line from its own script, that “cinema doesn’t need a point.” Maybe sometimes you just need 100 minutes of a couple fighting to make you appreciate your own relationship or lack of one.