Review: ‘Malcolm & Marie’ takes a belabored look at love and filmmaking

By Isaiah Colbert, Opinions Editor

“Malcolm & Marie,” starring John David Washington as Malcolm (left) and Zendaya as Marie (right),  premiered on Netflix Feb. 5 in the U.S. Courtesy Dominic Miller/Netflix

Behind the monochromatic glitz and glamor of Hollywood couples lies a veraciously candid domestic relationship that cameras, fans and critics do not get to see. “Malcolm & Marie” pulls back that curtain and puts the ugly truth on display.

“Malcolm & Marie,” starring John David Washington as Malcolm and Zendaya as Marie, directed by Sam Levinson, premiered on Netflix Feb. 5 in the U.S. The movie was filmed in 14 days during the summer pandemic lockdown with a 21-member skeleton crew, according to IndieWire, and it follows the couple right off the heels of Malcolm’s film premiere.

Their fuming row begins when Malcolm forgets to mention Marie during his speech thanking those who supported him in making his film, which takes inspiration from Marie’s life.

While Malcolm has found fame from telling Marie’s life story about how she overcame her drug addiction, he boldly assumes he knows what makes her tick.

Malcolm insists on uncovering why she is angry with him, but Marie objects, saying nothing productive will come of arguing because he cannot de-escalate a situation unless it is work related. And boy, was she right.

The film turns into a new age “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” as the couple spends the rest of their night having a Reddit-esque thread of arguments.

Irony is not lost on this film being a Black love story released just ahead of Valentine’s Day. Instead of indulging in the feel-good nature of Black love, “Malcolm & Marie” plays with how overfamiliarity can lead to a lack of appreciation in relationships.

The couple might live in a big house, but their larger-than-life emotions make for a claustrophobic viewing experience with intimate close-up shots and fervent camera tracking as they argue throughout different rooms.

Together, the toxic pair throws caution to the wind and utilizes secrets shared in confidence as ammunition for each round of arguments.

As the sole actors in the film, Washington and Zendaya chew the scenery in every scene and bounce off each other marvelously.

Washington’s Malcolm carries himself as if he cannot be criticized. When Malcolm approaches self-actualization and recognition of his faults, he rebukes any responsibility and projects blame on Marie.

Zendaya’s Marie serves as a counter measure for Malcolm as he rakesteps his way into arguments he is not ready to have, and she calls him out to put him in check.

The film was written as if the camera were a fly on the wall witnessing a couple falling out during lockdown.

As a viewer, you are less an audience member in a Maury Povich show and more a friend with a migraine hoping these kids either work it out or cut their losses.

It is passé to say love stories that subvert tropes are the best of their genres, but “Malcolm & Marie” stands head and shoulders above other films that have taken a stab at depicting authentic arguments between lovers.

The film perfectly captures that the things Malcolm and Marie find aggravating about each other are the same things that caused them to fall in love in the first place.

In one moment, the couple are having an argument over a bowl of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, and in the next they are feeling each other up in the living room. Marie loves how impassioned he gets when he defends himself, and Malcolm loves her ability to parse through his bulls–t to bring up a point he did not initially see.

“Malcolm & Marie” is brutally honest about the unglamorous side of relationships. At times, the film is unnecessarily crude, full of itself and drawn out, but that is love at its most volatile.

Any conversation had after 11 p.m. should be saved for the morning, but “Malcolm & Marie” says what otherwise would not have been said by films released in the love-filled month of February.