Malcolm & Marie’s discourse proves the exact point that writer/director Sam Levinson is attempting to make. As many of my fellow brethren attempt to find meaning in references to fictitious critics and bowls of mac ‘n’ cheese, few have stopped to think that perhaps this film was merely an examination of the dynamics between individuals who are clearly wrong for each other as they navigate an industry which is prone to over analyzing every little thing. Critics, on the whole, feel that everything is fair game, including the filmmaker’s deeper intentions. Obviously, if a reference is made to a newspaper critic, it must be a takedown of an earlier review a critic wrote who worked for that same publication (insert eye-roll). Perhaps, what we see is exactly what the artist intended and nothing more.
Sam Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie offers us a ringside seat to a deteriorating relationship that is seemingly expedited by Malcolm (played by John David Washington), forgetting to reference the contributions made by his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya) in the production of his first feature film. Was it an oversight or just in Malcolm’s nature to not acknowledge who clearly helped along the way? What is quickly evident is this incident is the least of their problems.
Malcolm clearly longs for acceptance in the film making community and is overjoyed that some have compared him to Barry Jenkins or John Singleton. Marie cares little about him being accepted into this community and more about his acceptance of his contributions. The snub at the premiere clearly made her feel worthless. Truthfully, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. She clearly feels used as we learn that 90% of the film is in some way based on her own life. Of course, Malcolm sees it as an overreach and an attempt to glaum on to his apparent success.
Malcolm & Marie’s emotional honesty doesn’t come from a searing journey of self-discovery that some have proclaimed is crucial to this film’s working. What people need to wrap their heads around is that these two are at the end of their rope. Their connection to one another is a lie. Their relationship is a facade. Malcolm & Marie is a fairytale without a happy ending or moral to the story. These are two emotionally damaged people who are clearly both awful human beings at the height of their most reprehensible behavior.
John David Washington’s Malcolm is a walking contradiction. For someone who goes on and on about the dangers of reading too much into the artist’s intent, he sure clearly loves it when others do that very thing. My guess is when critics refer to your work as a revelation that it’s easier to look past certain transgressions. Zendaya’s Marie certainly cares an awful lot about getting credit for someone who claims to not care about getting credit. Each of these characters is a user. The end clearly justifies the means. Everything is fair game, and that’s what contributes to the eventual emotional hell-storm these two unleash.
The promise of stardom can clearly cause someone to forgo their morals and look past most anything. The allure of sharing in the limelight would move most to look past little annoyances. When those items go unaddressed, resentment builds, and the result is what we see in Malcolm & Marie. The simplicity of the film’s set design and cinematography allows the film’s focus to stay on the two principal actors. The camera is transfixed on either the two of them or a closeup on either actor. Zendaya electrifies every moment she on screen. Certainly a performance Oscar voters will look favorably on. John David Washington is terrific as well, going toe to toe every moment of the film. Levinson’s film is jarring to sit through at times, but it’s that very sensation that ultimately makes Malcolm & Marie a wonderful film. This isn’t about the journey; it’s about their end. It’s about them realizing at different moments during the film that whatever they gain from this, the emotional toll is clearly not worth it. It takes them up until the film’s final moments to understand what a beautiful disaster their relationship has become.