An aspiring director on the edge of becoming famous and his girlfriend return home from the screening of his phenomenally well-received directorial debut. The cheerful, drunken mood soon turns sour as they both begin to realise that their relationship that they hold so dear is extremely flawed.
Written and directed by Sam Levinson and starring John David Washington from the mind-bending film Tenet and Zendaya, hot off of HBO’s drug-fuelled Euphoria, Malcolm & Marie highlights scenes of terrifyingly unfiltered rage and the bitter silence that follows. Filmed entirely under the COVID pandemic, the film follows two characters in a single location with nothing else around. It’s isolating and claustrophobic, mainly due to its beautiful use of black and white film and unnerving close-up shots of these two characters as they scream and fight, slowly revealing their true nature to each other.
Malcolm & Marie is a haunting rollercoaster of twists and turns as both characters pick out what they hate about each other and the dark secrets that they hold within themselves. The film is a giant puzzle, with every scene revealing another shocking truth or secret about both characters, from how they first met to how they truly feel about each other. It’s dark and cruel but it never goes too far as it sometimes reels back with small scenes of intentional humour, showing hopeful glimpses that there is still something there that they feel for one another. The film thankfully never feels exploitative, using its drama to stage moments for the audience to think and reflect rather than just to create another cheesy romantic drama. It’s a painfully realistic depiction of a relationship breaking down without the couple even realising that it's doing so.
Although Malcolm & Marie only features two characters, I would argue that it has a third… the music. The film uses its flashy jazz score as an intermission for the audience to relax and take a breath before the next scene full of cruel verbal abuse and rage is played out. Malcolm is a deep lover of music, blasting out artists such as James Brown (good choice) to not only express his passion for music but to show how he feels towards Marie as he’s too scared to admit his feelings personally. This tactic that Malcolm uses is soon flipped over as Marie sits beside him in one scene, playing Dionne Warwick’s Get Rid Of Him to convey her emotions as well. Malcolm & Marie is full of these small but clever mind games that both characters play with each other, at times feeling like an incredibly twisted game of cat and mouse with both roles being reversed endlessly up until the credits start to roll.
Malcolm & Marie, due to its single setting, feels like a stage play and it wouldn’t surprise me if it was adapted for such a thing later down the road. It’s fascinating to see that when all the flash and music has disappeared, it leaves only two actors who both completely disappear into their roles. Both characters take on massively long monologues, one, in particular, highlighting Malcolm’s insecurity as a filmmaker as he explodes in anger over a review he reads, leading him on a rant of criticising directors who are far better and more talented than he ever could be. He would rather attack his heroes than thank them for paving the way for his career, beautifully mirroring the same dynamic that Malcolm shares with Marie.
The film positions the audience as if they’re watching something that they shouldn’t be, giving the illusion that they’re spying on both characters as the film sometimes jumps outside of the house allowing the audience to watch the drama unfold through a window. Whether it’s that or suggesting that Marie wants to escape, it's open for interpretation. That’s the strongest part of the film aside from its stunning performances, giving the audience enough answers to satisfy them throughout but never too many that they can’t argue over what they’ve just watched. The biggest question that the film begins to develop towards the end is never answered and yet the ending couldn’t be any more satisfying to witness.
The film uses silence just like its score to achieve an emotional response from the audience, cutting to painfully silent shots of Malcolm and Marie every now and then. Although they don’t say anything, you can tell exactly what they think and how they feel. Whether it’s Malcolm angrily scraping at a bowl of food or seeing Marie’s face tremble and quiver when Malcolm reveals how he feels, it’s perfect visual storytelling that highlights just how incredible both actors are at portraying these hopeless characters.
Malcolm & Marie shines a light on a deeply flawed and tragic relationship, one that I hope I nor anyone else ever has the displeasure of experiencing. It’s a powerhouse of emotion that will leave you feeling winded thanks to its incredibly talented and honest performances. The film perfectly balances its light and humorous moments with some extremely vicious and cruel scenes of verbal abuse and ugly truths. It makes me hopeful that more streaming services such as Netflix will continue to push and promote these kinds of films rather than just cheesy Rom-Coms, teenage High-School dramas and dull Action blockbusters. It shows just how incredible independent filmmaking can be and proves that cinema still has a heart hidden somewhere.