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"Malcolm and Marie," an Old Hollywood style film now streaming on Netflix, was shot during the peak of the Coronavirus pandemic and demonstrates exactly what the future of filmmaking may look like with continued social distancing guidelines. Shot during a matter of weeks, the film only included two actors on set. The story revolves around two characters and contains only their relationship. It’s set all in one night as the couple, Malcolm (John David Washington) and Marie (Zendaya), go about an argument after the premiere of the film that Malcolm directed.
Director Sam Levinson made a series of risky stylistic choices for "Malcolm and Marie": There are only two actors, they never leave the setting of the rented home they are staying in, and the entire film navigates a single argument, making for a fairly tense and overly dramatic viewing experience.
Despite this, the film is visually appealing, pulling in viewers first and foremost with its aesthetic quality. It’s nostalgically shot in black and white and takes on a romanic appeal. The film also draws attention for its director, Levinson, best-known for his hit HBO show "Euphoria," in which Zendaya also starred. Zendaya’s character in "Euphoria," Rue, is known for her emotional rawness as she copes with teenage drug addiction. Interestingly, Marie’s character is a recovered drug addict who got clean at the age of twenty, sparking her relationship with the older Malcolm, who helped her to do so. Whilst the two actors appear to bring life to their characters, making the film the best it could be, this is where many of the strong suits of the film begin to fall away.
The film begins with Malcolm and Marie returning to their rental house late at night, surrounded by an unspoken tension as Malcolm goes on a self-congratulatory tirade, while Marie bitterly enters the kitchen to make mac and cheese. We learn that Malcolm was so wrapped up in himself and his success of the night that he failed to thank Marie for her contributions to the film, causing extreme contention. Marie believes the film was written about her life and she was never even given credit, or cast to star in it, despite being an actress herself.
The first section of the film seems to circulate around the making of mac and cheese, as if it were some sort of fine dining experience, to a distracting degree. This is particularly evident as the title screen "Malcolm and Marie" is placed over the steaming bowl of mac and cheese, creating an overly dramatic visual. During their fight, Malcolm proceeds to eat the mac and cheese, which Marie had initially begun making when she stated that she hadn’t eaten all night. Marie angrily points out that Malcolm isn’t fully committed to their argument as he continues to eat the food that she made. This seems to serve as a metaphor for his lack of appreciation for everything she does for him, manifesting into his forgetting to thank her in his premiere speech.
Because "Malcolm and Marie" is shot only between two characters, with a run time of one hour and forty-six minutes, it begins to feel exhaustingly long. The characters trade back and forth between angry banter and seemingly endless soliloquies, making for a tiresome viewing experience. There is an extremely extended scene in which Marie takes a bath and Malcolm yells at her about all of his past girlfriends and how his film was far more about them, their lives, and his relationships with them, than it ever was about her. This scene goes on for such an excessive amount of time that it makes for a fairly uncomfortable, and almost abusive seeming, viewing experience.
"Malcolm and Marie" has generally earned negative reviews and audience backlash. It received only 58% on Rotten Tomatoes, a dismal score, and a 71% score from audiences. Generally, it came across as maudlin and trying just a little too hard to be artistically stylized.
Writer and director Sam Levinson even admitted in an interview with the LA times that he had hoped his film would spark conversations, however, it hasn’t been the conversation he expected. This film has certainly sparked conversation and debate, and for that reason alone, creating a worthwhile viewing experience.
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