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Review: Malcolm & Marie – “Erratic and incendiary. I loved it.”

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MALCOLM & MARIE (L-R): JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON as MALCOLM, ZENDAYA as MARIE. DOMINIC MILLER/NETFLIX © 2021

Malcolm & Marie starts boldly.

Black & White.
A deserted house.
The camera still.

You can feel the masses going for the remote because this isn’t for everyone. Sam Levinson (Assassination Nation, Euphoria), who wrote and directed as if his life depended on it, is making that clear from the get-go.

Black and White is important stylistically, as much as it is metaphorically and again, no time is wasted to make that clear. If people reach for the remote, I hope they change over to the fantastic Greenland They’ll be greeted by similar themes, ironically.

Yet the style and tone couldn’t be more different and boy is there style.

Not just in John David Washington (Tenet) — who’s really starting to build up an impressive canon now — dancing to James Brown. Not just in Zendaya (Spider-Man: Far From Home) getting to actually act — including an insane outburst that drops more C-bombs than Greenland drops comets. Then switching to effortless vulnerability in the bath.

It’s erratic and incendiary. Deliberately abrasive. I loved it. A two-hander stage show. Shot during lockdown it’s a miracle it exists so soon. Let alone that it exists on Netflix.

On a day when Amazon Prime lands the excellent Greenland, it’s a fascinating victory for streaming and video on demand. Even though you crave how good both films would’ve looked on the big screen.

I loved Levinson’s Assassination Nation and don’t accept that many say it was style over substance. The thing I respect most about Levinson is that he’s heard that criticism and thought, “Yeah? Watch this.”

He actually doubles down. People that hate this film will DETEST it. Loathe it. He clearly has some stuff to get off his chest, but I was never less than captivated to hear what he had to say.

Just as John David Washington starts to dominate, Zendaya steps in. With this and Assassination Nation, Levinson is really starting to write some great female roles. I’d be interested to read more about whether women agree with that — but to even have this be an even-handed “fight” is impressive.

JDW’s presence is so big. So large. Yet Zendaya goes toe-to-toe. Even when she says nothing and smirks in the bath. There are layers here.

It feels authentic, too. This isn’t just a lockdown movie. It could be a candid camera in a weekend retreat. The Actors clearly move away from the script at times, with some of the most creative swearing I’ve seen in a long, long time.

Tonally, I can see why many have been put off. No amount of creative camera movements can mask the fact that Malcolm & Marie are both flawed people. Both angry and hurt. Shouty when you want quiet. Aggressive when you want love, but I thought it was fantastic.

That opening shot feels like the scene of a crime. Calm, but ominous. Then, as headlights come up over the hill, you’ll wish the car was going the other way.

A truly toxic relationship

What even is love? Much like my favourite films to explore it — and tonally, the bruising Blue Valentine and Eyes Wide Shut spring to mind — everything is best stripped back. Naked and vulnerable.

A film that deserves to be watched and studied. Not for everyone and almost certainly bound to trigger. There is far too much quality on show to dismiss, though. For what it’s worth, hearing a young talented black man criticise white critics didn’t bother me at all. Nor did the age gap.

By the end, I was far more uncomfortable with the fourth wall breaks. Staring right at me, as if I’d intruded on their life for the last few hours. Fractured by reflections and refractions of mirror and glass.

“Cinema doesn’t need to have a message. It needs to have a heart and electricity.”

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One Comment

  1. Great review, I 100% agree! I think the critics got it all wrong on this one. It’s fantastic. Feels like a play but looks like a cinematic masterpiece. I’ve been in a relationship like this and yes it’s toxic, tough, exhausting and infuriating. He portrayed my feelings so well. I don’t know if two people like that should be together. I’m still trying to figure that out myself. What I do know is that the fine line between love and hate is movie making magic and Sam Levinson gets it right in this film.

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