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Malcolm & Marie review: What is love? Baby don’t hurt me

Zendaya and John David Washington in Malcolm & Marie.
Zendaya and John David Washington in Malcolm & Marie. Pic credit: Dominic Miller/Netflix

Malcolm & Marie is an interesting monster born from one of the hardest periods of our generation. The Netflix film was an experiment of sorts to see if Hollywood could still make films in a pandemic.

Using strict procedures and testing plus an isolated location, it more than succeeded in being an ambitious piece of cinema in an excruciating pandemic.

The film does convey two things: 1) cinematic art can be achieved during quarantine, and 2) director Sam Levinson had a lot on his mind.

But is Malcolm & Marie worth streaming? Here is our full review of the latest film from Netflix.

Malcolm & Marie review

The film stars John David Washington (Tenet) as Malcolm and Zendaya as Marie (Euphoria). It centers on an evening as the both of them return home after Malcolm screened his latest directed film.

As they wait for the reaction from critics, Malcolm and Marie begin to realize they brought some emotional baggage home with them that requires unpacking.

Just like any relationship where two people love each other so hard, the night becomes vulnerable as they both dissect each other — for better and for worse.

The film, which is composited in black and white, is exactly what one might expect for an experimental project during coronavirus madness. The entire story takes place in a huge house secluded from the rest of the world, giving the elements an added vulnerability.

And there are only two cast members with the rest of the film involving crew under strict testing guidelines.

It was one of the first films to take a chance and attempt such a feat during the pandemic, and for that alone, it should be applauded.

However, because of Malcolm & Marie’s experimental tone, this film will not be for everyone.

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Zendaya and John David Washington as Malcolm & Marie.
Zendaya and John David Washington as Malcolm & Marie. Pic credit: Dominic

The whole thing feels like director Sam Levinson took all his angst and frustrations from being stuck inside and unleashed his rage on pen and paper through dialogue.

The dialogue feels like a conversation he might have had with his partner while being on lockdown for so long.

Such examples hint at this is the authenticity of the arguments between the two leads over the two-hour runtime. Not to mention, John David Washington’s character Malcolm is given one of the most detailed rants about film criticism probably ever seen in cinema.

This writer is dying to know who at the Los Angeles Times hurt Sam Levinson.

But truthfully, the rant is rather hilarious and can make some of us pause and reflect if we are guilty of some of these aspects that Malcolm is so stirred up about.

Both of the leads are outstanding and bring their best to the material. Washington has continued to prove himself as a leading man since breaking out with Spike Lee’s Backkklansman.

But the actress who dominates Malcolm & Marie is Zendaya. She absolutely will get an Oscar nomination one day — if not for this film.

Zendaya and John David Washington sitting outside in Malcolm & Marie
Zendaya and John David Washington sitting outside in Malcolm & Marie. Pic credit: Dominic Miller

Again though, this will not be an easy movie to recommend. The film is masterfully shot, performed, and written. The issue is watching two people argue and tear each other down over two hours is not easy to sit through.

Anyone who has been in these types of relationships understands the realism being depicted. Whether one is getting married or is trapped in a house with their partner for extended lengths of time, buttons will be pushed, and flaws will be boiled to the surface.

And sometimes, within that emotional battlefield, we can grow and become better people and partners. It’s hard to know whether Levinson is working through some relational demons of his own through Malcolm & Marie, but if so, it’s fascinating to watch him try.

Malcolm & Marie also explores the topic of mental health and how it can influence art and romance in negative and positive ways. And this is brilliantly brought to life by Zendaya’s performance.

Moreover, Malcolm & Marie is just a hard-boiled lesson on the vulnerability of loving and being loved. And the biggest lesson here is that we all want to be seen, appreciated, and valued. But sometimes it takes being trapped with the right person.

Overall Thoughts

Malcolm & Marie is not an easy recommendation because of its experimental tone and the stress it might put viewers through as they watch two characters argue.

But if one can click play with an open mind, the movie might leave an impression. It’s a film that mirrors the tense isolation of the moment and demands the viewer to find grace for themselves and their loved ones.

Furthermore, it might give us critics a chuckle because we are roasted heavily in this movie.

It’s not a perfect film, but for a piece of art made during the pandemic, it should be commended and celebrated considering the business itself is in a strange period.

If readers enjoyed this movie and review, be sure and check out our reviews for The White Tiger and One Night in Miami.

Malcom & Marie is now streaming on Netflix.

John Dotson


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