Malcolm & Marie follows the titular couple who, after coming home from the former’s movie premiere, get into a heated argument that lasts throughout the night. Their relationship is tested as they await the reviews for Malcolm’s movie, and secret resentments reveal themselves as the couple reaches a boiling point.
The best parts of Malcolm & Marie—and the only thing that is really noteworthy—are the performances. Led by John David Washington and Zendaya, the film keeps the audience interested because of the talent of the leads. It is worth watching for them alone, and they deserve credit for doing their best with the material given to them. It was great to see Zendaya branch out into unexplored territory with this role, and she proves herself as a powerful actress.
However, despite strong performances, Malcolm & Marie suffers a lot from the other aspects of the film. Directed and written by Sam Levinson, creator of HBO’s Euphoria, the film struggles to keep up with the performances that are being given. The script is, overall, fairly weak and repetitive. The entire movie is nearly two hours of arguments, a concept that has been done before and in much better ways. Malcolm & Marie is a lot of yelling and ranting without much substance, and it gets tiring pretty quickly.
Though it isn’t a long film—under two hours—it feels much longer. Levinson struggles with keeping the story going through any other means than argument, and there is no real emotional tie to the story that keeps the audience invested. The script and the story are nothing special, and some of the scenes come off as shallow and unimportant. It feels like a vanity project more than anything, and it is clear that Levinson inserts himself into the movie time and time again. The script is very on-the-nose and lacks any subtlety that might make it interesting.
The directing is nothing to boast about, either. Though it isn’t done poorly, and though it’s a nice break from the flashiness of Euphoria, nothing about it is particularly great. There isn’t a moment where the directing stands out, and the film as a whole lacks any greater vision. Because of the repetitiveness, it all sort of blends together, and though I only saw it a couple of days ago, I’ve already forgotten much of what the argument was about.
Though it is nice to see Levinson shine a light on Black talent, the lack of Black people in the crew and the fact that Levinson is a white man make the film and its discussions of Blackness feel more performative than anything. The movie would have benefitted if Levinson had worked with and consulted Black creators, and much of what Levinson writes seems like his attempt to be woke without understanding the intricacies of anti-Black racism. It is very clearly written and directed by a white person, and its look at racism and how it infiltrates Hollywood is surface-level at best. There is nothing intelligent to be gained from Malcolm & Marie, and Levinson fails at his attempt to seem progressive.
Malcolm & Marie, at the end of the day, fails to achieve what it sets out for itself. Meant to be an engaging drama about a failing relationship, it stands out only for the performances given by Zendaya and John David Washington. Though they make it worthwhile, they aren’t enough to save the film from ultimate disappointment. It’s a tiring watch that is easily forgotten.
(This review was originally published by Marisa Jones on Medium.)