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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 27 February 2021

Review: Relationship drama 'Malcolm & Marie' frustrates, but Zendaya proves she's a Hollywood treasure

Gregory Wakeman says that while the new Netflix film is able to hold our attention, it doesn’t actually have anything original or impactful to say

'Malcom & Marie' stars David John Washington and Zendaya. Netflix
'Malcom & Marie' stars David John Washington and Zendaya. Netflix

Malcolm & Marie shouldn’t exist.

It only does because, after several weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic, teen drama series Euphoria’s writer, director, and creator Sam Levinson and its star Zendaya were so desperate to get their creative juices flowing again that they decided to collaborate on a self-contained film that they could shoot safely.

Levinson says he wrote the relationship drama about an evening-long argument between prestigious up-and-coming filmmaker Malcolm and his girlfriend and inspiration Marie in only six days, with constant input from Zendaya. John David Washington quickly joined the project after he heard 10 pages of dialogue over the phone, while all three of them were so eager to create that they funded the film themselves.

What’s most impressive about Malcolm & Marie is that this energy and enthusiasm permeates throughout. From the very first scene, Washington’s verve and vigour eats up the screen, while Levinson struts his stuff behind the camera, too. His choice of black and white photography, which exquisitely glistens thanks to the cinematography of Marcell Rev, immediately establishes a stylishness that is present in its set design, setting, music, and even its dialogue.

Scenes from Malcom & Marie.
'Malcolm & Marie' was shot in black and white. Netflix

It’s just a shame then that Malcolm & Marie doesn’t actually have anything original or impactful to say. That’s particularly troubling since almost all of its 106-minute long running time is made up of its titular characters having intense discussions and arguments with each other.

After returning home from the Hollywood premiere of Malcolm’s latest movie, Marie admits that she’s annoyed because he forgot to thank her during its introduction. This sparks a number of revelations about their past, their relationship, and their future, while they also spend time debating film criticism, the role of cinema, authenticity, and various other topics.

This abundance of subjects and themes only hinders proceedings, though. In fact, at its worst, Malcolm & Marie sounds like the very thing it spends a lot of time making fun of; a bad and indulgent movie review.

Luckily for Malcolm & Marie, Levinson makes up for his tepid script, which really does sound as though it was written in less than a week, with his direction. Not only does every single moment of the film look pristine, but Levinson gives Washington and Zendaya the freedom and time for their performances to flourish.

For the opening 15 minutes, it’s Washington’s relentless excitement that dominates. All the while, though, Zendaya simmers in the background. When it’s time for her to come to the forefront of Malcolm & Marie, she quickly takes command, and by the end, she is the one who has gone to deeper places and revealed more of herself and her vulnerabilities. Her performance is all the more remarkable when you consider that she is only 24, and off the back of her Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Emmy award win for Euphoria, it makes her future work all the more exciting.

Scenes from Malcom & Marie.
'Malcolm & Marie' was written during the Covid-19 pandemic and its star Zendaya, who funded the film along with Levinson and Washington. Netflix

Washington more than holds his own opposite Zendaya, though, and he looks much more comfortable and confident in Malcolm & Marie than he did in Christopher Nolan’s bombastic and borderline incomprehensible Tenet. But while Zendaya is able to make up for the shortcomings in the characterisation of Marie, he doesn’t quite provide the same pathos and weight to make Malcolm as well-rounded.

Without him, though, and the perfect chemistry that he forms with Zendaya, Malcolm & Marie wouldn’t just deflate, it would be unbearable. The energy and edge that they’re able to bring together means that it is always captivating. It’s just frustrating that it doesn’t do anything worthwhile with our attention.

Updated: January 31, 2021 02:19 PM

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