Malcolm & Marie

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Movies put the fun in dysfunctional. The simple act of an argument between a couple can be an interesting acting exercise. In 1962 Edward Albee published and produced Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for the stage. Ernest Lehman adapted it into a landmark picture that starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It won 5 Academy Awards and set a slew of Oscar records in the process. I guess it isn’t surprising that other writers might draw inspiration from it. Yasmina Reza’s 2008 play God of Carnage is an example. Malcolm & Marie is another, even down to the black and white cinematography. Yet appearances can be deceiving. That was good. This is not.

A filmmaker (John David Washington) and his girlfriend (Zendaya) return home following a well received movie premiere. Malcolm is ecstatic about his impending fame. What should be a joyous occasion turns sour when Marie brings up the fact that he forgot to thank her in his acceptance speech. From this seed of a beginning sets off over 100-minutes of bickering that grows increasingly tiresome. An all-night debate could be an opportunity to explore some thought-provoking themes. No such luck. Sam Levinson is satisfied watching a couple of privileged, self-involved, narcissists argue in circles. Like the loquacious equivalent of a cat playing with a ball of yarn, Levinson’s script is content to merely banter random topics back and forth without arriving at an apparent resolution to any of them. Malcolm & Marie is a cacophonous explosion of words in deference to a supremely empty experience.

The conversation begins with the common courtesy expected in a relationship but moves on to introduce a litany of aimless thoughts only to discard them so he can advance new ones. Levinson utilizes John David Washington as a device. In one diatribe, Malcolm bemoans the ignorance of a “white lady critic from the LA Times”. If I understand this monologue correctly, he means to assert that black art cannot ever be clearly understood by a white person. Sam the writer and director — who also happens to be the son of successful filmmaker Barry Levinson (Good Morning Vietnam, Rain Man) — is also white. This begs the question: does Levinson mean to impugn his own writing? If so, he might be onto something here.

Malcolm & Marie is a hollow interaction. The screenplay is the problem. The lack of purpose to this nonsense is highlighted by a peculiar idiosyncrasy that kept shining through. Writer Sam Levinson is inordinately preoccupied with obscenities, particularly the F-word. I’ve watched many profanity-laced films in my time: The Wolf of Wall Street and Uncut Gems have achieved a modern zenith. Yet, in their favor, they each detailed a world that was less than savory. In contrast, this is the depiction of two attractive people ostensibly in love. Never have I have ever heard a release drop F-bombs in such a short amount of time without any justifiable reason. It’s almost comical as if he recently learned a new vocabulary word and wanted to use it as much as possible. His fascination with it is positively jejune. Wikipedia places this at #23 amongst all films ever to frequently use the word. Pulp Fiction is #30 for comparison. Granted #22 is high but it actually feels a lot worse. It’s an overall mood, but I now consider this the nadir of foul language in my own cinematic experience. Regardless, I’m not about to suffer through this again to confirm whether it should rank higher. I’ll trust Wikipedia.

Much like the movie, this review is a rant. Malcolm & Marie may be tedious but it’s not all bad. It features stylish black and white cinematography by Marcell Rév. Although star Zendaya spends most of the time in various states of undress so visually it evokes a glossy but suggestive Calvin Klein underwear ad. Sam Levinson has worked with the actress before on the HBO drama series Euphoria. This was a side project when production shut down because of COVID. Their familiarity with each other brings out a believable performance. Her achievement here is emotionally authentic. Still, it doesn’t make the liaison depicted in this account any less disgusting. Malcolm and Marie need to stop talking and go to bed immediately. Sleep it off and then break up in the morning. They shouldn’t be together and audiences shouldn’t be subjected to their nasty quarrel.

02-05-21

4 Responses to “Malcolm & Marie”

  1. This is taking a good beating. I don’t think I’ve read one review that’s held this in a positive regard. That’s funny too, considering how Malcolm & Marie seems to be a direct riposte to the way critics blasted his previous movie. He’s fighting the press and now himself.

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    • You’re right. Sam Levinson definitely seems to be lashing back at critics’ negative reviews for Assassination Nation but indirectly through Malcolm who complains about how white critics discuss the films of black filmmakers.

      There’s also a lot of “winking” commentary from Marie who puts Malcolm in his place as if Levinson also wants to let the audience know he is self-aware. It’s all a bit tedious.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This was an annoying film. I would not have lasted that long in that relationship. It was like a verbal boxing match. Terrible language too. 1 1/2 ⭐️

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