Cast: Zendaya and John David Washington
Directed by Sam Levinson
Written by Sam Levinson
A lockdown-created film by Sam Levinson, a director who’s best known for his writing and directing on ‘Euphoria,’ – a TV series that brilliantly tells the story of a drug-addicted teenager played by Zendaya, and her battle to get clean for the sake of herself and her family – ‘Malcolm and Marie’ follows the aftermath of a director and his wife as they return home from the premiere of Malcolms (John David Washingtons) debut film which tells the story of a drug-addicted teenager, which Marie (Zendaya) struggles to come to terms with, as she believes the film is based on her life. Essentially, all you need to know going into ‘Malcolm and Marie’ is that Sam Levinson is telling an autobiographical story of his experiences creating a show like ‘Euphoria’ and releasing it to the public.
As there aren’t too many good things to focus on with this film, I’ll try and get those out of the way to begin with. Zendaya and John David Washington both give brilliant performances, achieving the wide range of emotions that litter ‘Malcolm and Marie’ with depth and honesty. You can feel their struggle to work things out and express themselves through the way that these two actors visually perform in a more sincere and genuine way than any of the writing allows. The visuals are pretty decent too, I can understand the choice for using a black and white colour tone, but it does little to benefit the film other than to establish that this will be a fairly dramatic story. It also meets the required length of a feature film, which is a blessing or a curse depending on who you ask.
If you read almost anyone’s reviews on this film, you will probably hear fairly negative things, and for good reason. Abandoning any sense of romanticism, Sam Levinson seems to have only created ‘Malcolm and Marie’ to complain about how critics didn’t understand his previous work, and that his success is entirely independent of anyone else, which is ironic given both how badly this film has been received, and the fact that he’s the son of a Best Picture-winning director, meaning he’s probably not as self-made as he claims. Utilising John David Washington’s character as the mouthpiece for his dissatisfaction, Levinson complicates his complaints by approaching them from a race angle, which just feels slightly strange. Of course, though not entirely advisable, ‘Malcolm and Marie’ is definitely not the first time a white writer has written about the struggles of POC, but when presenting a character that is so clearly a reflection of one’s self, Levinson just comes across as assumptious and ignorant. Perhaps the strangest part of all however, is that the topic of discussion within the film is so clearly made out to be ‘Euphoria,’ and yet that show isn’t a critical failure at all. In fact, I would probably describe it as a masterclass in storytelling around teen anxiety and drug abuse. The cinematography is perhaps the greatest of any show I’ve ever seen, and all twelve episodes push the boundaries of what TV should be.
‘Malcolm and Marie’ is a film created under the restraints of our current COVID restrictions, which makes sense given that it’s a single-location film with relatively simplistic camerawork and lighting, as well as only two on-screen characters. Essentially just one long conversation, the film is almost entirely unsuccessful in maintaining any sort of interest or emotional investment in either of the characters or their issues. Once again, this seems unusual as only two months ago Levinson wrote and directed an hour long episode of ‘Euphoria’ which took place in almost entirely identical conditions, and was one of the greatest pieces of television made in 2020. If Levinson’s name wasn’t embarrassingly placed on the end credits of this film, I would find it very hard to believe that he had any involvement at all.
All in all, I would say to avoid watching ‘Malcolm and Marie’ There is great acting, but aside from that the gratuitous hour-and-forty-minutes runtime is nowhere near worth it. I’ve barely touched on the story, and that’s essentially because it just isn’t interesting. It’s a story that never needed telling in the way it did, and I can only hope that this is an unfortunate anomaly in Sam Levinson’s career.