There’s a certain nostalgia that lends itself to a black and white film. It evokes thoughts of Hollywood’s Golden Age and films like Casablanca, Citizen Kane or Psycho but now it’s been relegated to artsy films with the one exception being 2011’s Oscar darling The Artist. Recently, Netflix and director Sam Levinson released their black and white dying romance film Malcolm & Marie starring Zendaya and John David Washington. In what should have been a stage play starring the two actors, the film offers an intimate yet cruel look into a relationship that seems to be on its last leg while the stars seem to be madly in love or angry with each other.
The subjects of the Malcolm & Marie film are engaged in what appears to be the longest night of their lives. Malcolm is a director and is riding high on what seems to be successful and his girlfriend, Marie, is a former actress who is upset that she wasn’t thanked during Malcolm’s speech at the premiere. Celebrities are people and they have real world struggles but they are ultimately part of the population that’s hard to connect with. This opening fight in Malcolm and Marie seems to be rehashed over the course of an hour and forty minutes with Malcolm having retorts and Marie throwing them right back at him.
Similar to 2019’s Marriage Story, these two can be unbelievably cruel to each other. Marie calls him mediocre and unoriginal while Malcolm maliciously lists off all of the women he’s slept with before meeting Marie. These fights are unnecessarily cruel and pointlessly long as different aspects of their arguments are revisited during the course of the film and are interrupted by genuine tender moments as they begin making out on their floor or when Malcolm is searching for Marie outdoors.
In spite of this, Levinson has created complex characters in the Malcolm & Marie film who aspire to be more than what society has perceived them to be. As a black filmmaker, Malcolm doesn’t want to be placed in a box and comments that not every film he makes has to be political or has to contain some deeper message. He just wants to create amazing stories and for them to be recognized for what they are whereas Marie wants to be recognized as an essential cog of Malcolm’s life. In the most heartbreaking scene of Malcolm and Marie, she tells him everything she wanted him to say during his speech earlier in the evening. Marie believes she should receive credit for cleaning, providing love to him, and ultimately offering inspiration for Malcolms main character. Marie wants to be known as more than his girlfriend, she is the light of his life.
Both characters in the Malcolm & Marie film receive monologues that are worthy of the stage and seem misplaced when they are streamed on Netflix. We aren’t able to connect to these characters in the moment and their pain is not palpable and it doesn’t help that we see more cruelty than intimacy and what intimacy we do see is short lived. They seem to revel in their cruelty towards one another and cannot allow themselves to be happy even when Malcolm reads a positive although misguided review of his film.
The point of his long rant is forgotten as he emphasizes over and over again that he wants his art to be art and not have a political undertone to it. Even the ending feels wrong after they’ve laid out all their shortcomings to each other and Malcolm apologizes for his oversight. The phrase “never go to bed angry” applies to these two as the Malcolm & Marie ends ambiguously as they stand next to each other outside of their home and nothing has been resolved. Relationships need a cleansing fight every now and then but sometimes two people get together who are so incompatible that they manage to have the same fight six times in one night and that’s what Malcolm & Marie feels like, the fight that never ends.
VERDICT: 2 cigarette packs out of 5
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