Film review: Malcolm and Marie

Director: Sam Levinson; Screenplay: Sam Levinson; Cast: Zendaya and John David Washington (Released: 29 January 2021)

Rating: 10/10

A couple’s therapy session that lasts over an hour – that is how I would sum up the latest Netflix hit, Malcolm & Marie.

The movie revolves around the characters of Malcolm, played by John David Washington, and Marie, played by Zendaya. Directed by Euphoria director Sam Levinson, this black-and-white film is about a couple returning home late at night and getting caught up in a series of verbal skirmishes that is ultimately one battle.

The audience is given the role of therapist in this therapy session, and invited into the life of this couple by the brilliant directing of Levinson. The close-up shots put the audience in the conversation, and indeed at times right in the middle of it. One cannot always be certain from their war of words which of the two is at fault, but in the end it becomes clear that both must share the blame, as is often the case in broken relationships.

Malcolm’s ego and Marie’s complete lack thereof makes for an interesting exchange, and, as the film investigates the emotional pitfalls of a romantic relationship, it also asks important questions about artists and their art.

Can one separate the art from the artist, and the responsibility of artists towards their muses, if they have any? In Malcolm’s rants, the film also touches on identity politics. In this way, the film is thought-provoking on multiple levels. Above all, the visceral nature of the intense emotions on display overwhelms almost every other aspect of it.

Verbal duel

At the very beginning of their verbal duel, Zendaya’s character says grimly: ‘I promise you, nothing productive is going to be said tonight.’ This could not be further from the truth; it is often when you feel that you are getting nowhere that you make progress in romantic relationships. The grunt work of honestly and openly discussing what bothers you is important and this film shows why, with both characters reaching a state of mutual bliss. In the end, their luxury rental house and designer clothing cannot cover up the ugly bits each reveals, but they learn to accept them and accept each other too.

The film does not deliver the happy ending we might be used to as an audience, but, then again, you are never happy after having it out with your significant other – even if the argument is productive.

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