It’s Black and White, Malcolm and Marie is almost unwatchable


Photo obtained via Netflix.

Rating: 1/5 stars

Currently sitting at number three on Netflix’s Top 10 Most Watched list, Sam Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie is the newest small production movie to be released during the COVID-19 pandemic. Its star-studded cast, featuring John David Washington and Zendaya, was a source of high anticipation surrounding the film’s launch on the streaming platform. However, despite the movie’s hype and cast, it is not worth watching.

Malcolm & Marie tells the story of the titular characters involved in a romantic relationship at home following the premier of Malcolm’s movie. Throughout the film, the two characters go through extreme highs and lows as they deal with their own successes and shortcomings, both as a couple and as young professionals in the movie industry.

While the plot sounds interesting and has many of the necessary elements to make a really good movie, there is just something about this film that, to put it plainly, isn’t good.

For starters, the dialogue is so unnatural that it becomes increasingly difficult to be concerned with what is going on between the characters. There are only two characters present in the entire movie, so having actual conversation should be a strong aspect of the film. Instead of conversation, though, Malcolm and Marie just trade monologues for nearly two hours.

On top of that, all the attempted depth of the movie feels shallow and like pandering. Malcolm brings up what it means to be a black filmmaker several times, and how because of his race, every film he makes will be interpreted as political. He then has a massive meltdown when a reviewer of his movie, a white woman, gives an overwhelmingly positive review, but he believes that she missed the point of the movie. Through Marie’s character, the movie addresses the difference between male and female gazes in movies and how male directors will sometimes oversexualize actresses in films. This also felt like pandering, because the character of Marie was rarely fully clothed.

A common theme of the movie was how Malcolm wrote about experiences he had no knowledge of, and how as a result his movie wasn’t authentic. The theme is entirely ironic, because it seemed like the writer and director of the movie, who are the same person, was depicting experiences he knew nothing about, most noticeably being a black filmmaker.

The best aspect of the movie was the acting. Washington does a fair job bringing Malcolm to life through emotion, but the writing and direction of the character makes him impossible to connect to. The movie, although not deliberately, makes it clear that he is verbally abusive to Marie, and gaslights her to the extreme. On the other hand, Zendaya doesn’t feel like the right pick to have played Marie. There is no doubt that Zendaya is a great actress, but there was something about her playing an adult in a relationship that felt wrong. It’s possibly because of the apparently large age gap between the characters, but Zendaya as an actress still seems like she should be playing high schoolers and other younger characters.

Fans of Levinson’s other project, Euphoria, who are coming to this movie to see another collaboration between Levinson and Zendaya should stay away. Instead of the vibrant and visually mesmerizing world in Euphoria, Malcolm & Marie is a black and white film that feels less like a work of art, and more like a disaster unfolding.

The only redeeming quality this movie could arguably have is that it might be a gateway to interesting conversations about race in cinema, the validity of artists making works not based on their own experiences and complicated dynamics in working relationships. However, this movie barely does any of the heavy lifting in starting these conversations, it just brings them up and then either poorly addresses them or simply forgets about them.

All in all, Malcolm & Marie has a lot of issues. It romanticizes an abusive relationship, where the man feels like a self-implant for the writer, because he uses the movie to prove he’s a cinephile and air his grievances with how reviewers review his movie. Because the film comes from the point of view of a black man, his grievances become a race issue. The movie never fully resolves itself or comes to any sort of conclusion, and it feels as though it is four hours long, and not in a good way.

Malcolm & Marie is almost an offensively bad movie, especially the longer you think about it. When looking at the plot, the characters, and especially the story behind the making of this movie, it is hard to find many redeeming qualities. There are certainly better ways to spend your evening, and there are definitely better movies to watch. I do not recommend this movie.