“Malcolm & Marie”
(US Rated R)
Cast: Zendaya, John David Washington
If you find yourself single this Valentine’s Day weekend, there’s a new film just for you, that’ll have you shouting “Hallelujah” as if it were still Christmas.
“Malcolm & Marie” is arguably designed to dissuade people from getting into romantic relationships. At the very least, one of its mandates must have been to convince folks not to consider psychotherapy as a profession, only to hear people complain forever about their silly problems.
If you’re someone who despises getting into arguments, and you’re cursed to be tied to someone who thrives on long, drawn-out diatribes, you know how painful that can be. So, imagine watching two people you don’t even know argue for nearly two hours!
To make matters worse, you realize within the first five minutes of this two-hour lovers’ quarrel that you really dislike one of those people. (God help you if you dislike them both!)
Well, again, meet “Malcolm & Marie”. In this Netflix film released last week, underlying tensions and painful revelations push a filmmaker and his girlfriend toward a romantic reckoning.
“Malcolm & Marie” has just two characters. You guessed it: Malcolm and Marie – played by John David Washington and Zendaya, respectively.
The entire picture is in black and white. It is extremely stylish and slick in its production values. The musical direction and music selection is equally noteworthy. The concept, with only two characters, is interesting. A frequent device of stage plays, we’ve seen similar in cinema before.
We’ve also seen nasty, horrible, bitter people arguing for hours before –1966’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (also intentionally shot in black and white) comes to mind. That film had four cast members. And perhaps that diversity in characters, ever so slight as it may be, makes that multiple Oscar-nominated and winning picture so unforgettable – along with the fantastic performances, screenplay and direction, of course.
“Malcolm & Marie”, however, feels like a very difficult chore. There’s an overwhelmingly over-indulgent spirit here. (I haven’t seen a film so full of itself since “La La Land”.)
Sam Levinson, creator of the incredible HBO drama “Euphoria”, for which Zendaya won the Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama Series last year, is the screenwriter and director, and must ultimately take the blame for making this not the most pleasant experience.
And while we might be able to understand how George and Martha from the aforementioned “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” got to that terrible place in their relationship, it’s a head-scratcher as to why Malcolm and Marie are still a couple. I struggle to see how their issues could linger below the surface for so long without an explosion prior to this.
Now, yes, that’s all subjective. And you might better be able to understand it.
One thing is indisputable: Zendaya is currently one of the best actresses around, and at only age 24, she is poised to be regarded as one of the best ever, if she continues on her current trajectory.
She’s brilliant in “Euphoria”, and even in small roles like “Spider-Man: Homecoming”, routinely steals scenes from major players. She is the shining light in “Malcolm & Marie”, and greatly outshines her talented co-star.
While Washington – who is following well in his father Denzel’s footsteps – is usually a joy to watch, he’s this close to being unbearable here. Perhaps that’s because Malcolm is such a douche. Or maybe it’s because Washington is simply overacting. Zendaya’s performance is effortless in everything, from line delivery to facial expressions, but Washington seems over the top, almost forced and overly frenetic.
Even if this is who the character Malcolm is supposed to be, it contributes to the feeling that we’re stuck in the middle of the slowest, longest quicksand sinking process ever – long, repetitive, draining and tiresome.
Plus, in typical Netflix fashion, “Malcolm & Marie” feels unnecessarily lengthy. It runs for one hour and 46 minutes but feels about an hour too long.
And while watching Zendaya’s magic is an intriguing proposition, if one were forced to see two people argue endlessly in the middle of the night for that long, you’d likely scream at them to shut the (expletive) up and go to bed! Or you’d get up and leave!
Choose wisely. And Happy Valentine’s Day!
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.