Malcolm & Marie: A Claustrophobic View of Toxicity with Stunning Visuals

Photo courtesy of Interview Magazine

Malcolm & Marie is a modern black and white film that follows a couple right after an evening at a movie premiere. Directed by Sam Levinson, Malcolm (John David Washington) is a driven and imaginative director that created a movie that will launch his career. Marie (Zendaya Coleman) is his sharp and witty wife who has long supported his filmmaking dream.

Zendaya and Washington offer complimentary performances in this intimate drama. I was concerned that Zendaya would have trouble taking on such a strong and complex role but, I should have known that her days of being a Disney child star have been over for a while now. Washington is smoothly following in his father’s footsteps, Denzel Washington, and he shows us a character that is aggressively blunt with a bit of sincerity.

I did not have to watch the movie long before I realized how toxic their relationship was. The first scene of the film is raw, simple, and filled with cursing, as Malcolm argues with himself more than Marie. Throughout the film, they follow each other from room to room, ‘logically’ repeatedly explaining what problems they have with each other.

Shame and guilt are the two recurring themes within the movie. Marie is a broken person who never would have fixed herself on her own, while Malcolm is an indulgent ‘mediocre’ who would have never had a taste of success without Marie. I had to pause the film more than once to get through how toxic and unnecessary their speech was. Domestic violence was not the case in this movie, but the characters’ arguing held a grueling intensity that hit just as hard as physical blows.

Though the French-styled music and delicate cinematography between scenes are a nice touch, these elements failed to enhance Malcolm and Marie’s relationship. They are so toxic that any sweet moment they share is voided of romance and vulnerability. This film goes in circles just like Malcolm did in the first scene with Marie. He paces around the couch 10 times, just like we have to do with their relationship. In a two-hour conversation, they illustrate no true identity outside of each other. They are both in a power struggle that they love to be in, and the audience will end up rooting for them, but separately. Each one knows the others’ problems and it is a sad but comforting place for them to be in.

Levinson did an interesting job directing this non-romantic, romance. He tells us nothing of how Malcolm and Marie found each other, yet the audience can quickly understand and dissect their dynamic. The black and white visuals create a blunt contrast with the content but not enough to add any actual depth or meaning to the story. The actors take on their roles with lukewarm chemistry, and it’s hard to tell if that’s intentional or not. I would say that at least the characters are authentic, but Malcolm says that doesn’t count for much in a film. Ironically, in the case of this film, he is correct.

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