“Malcolm and Marie” is a classic case of good actors in a bad movie

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NETFLIX © 2021

Zendaya and John David Washington in the Netflix film “Malcolm and Marie.”

“Malcolm and Marie,” written and directed by “Euphoria’s” Sam Levinson, had the potential to be something special. Instead, this experimental film made with a limited cast and crew proves to be extremely repetitive, and in some places, boring. Malcolm and Marie obviously have a lot of issues, as does the film itself.

Starring the talented Zendaya and John David Washington, the film is set in and around a stunning modernist house, which the couple is staying in for the premiere of Malcolm’s new movie. 

We first meet the couple as they arrive back from the movie premiere. This was Malcolm’s directorial debut, and he enters the home on a high of excitement, putting on some music and dancing exuberantly over to the bar to mix a drink. 

Marie on the other hand, evidently tired and less pleased with how the evening progressed, goes into the bathroom in silence. She enters the kitchen and gives Malcolm a sideways glance, signaling she is used to his behavior as she begins to prepare him a box of Kraft Mac and Cheese.

This initial interaction between the two characters sets the tone for the rest of the film — Malcolm is oblivious, while Marie is cold and bitter. 

While Marie cooks, Malcolm begins one of the film’s many extended speeches about film and race. He displays anger at the fact that white film critics, one “white lady” from the LA Times in particular, are constantly trying to find a way to make films directed by a person of color or featuring a person of color all about race. 

He argues that just because he is Black, not everything he does is about his Blackness. Marie argues back that it is, in fact, the opposite; because he is Black, white film critics look for ways to call out the meaning of race in films.

At this point, Malcolm finally realizes that Marie is unhappy about something. He tries to figure out if it was something the lead actress in his film, said to her at the premiere that bothered her, or something else, until she reveals that she is angry because he forgot to thank her in his big speech. 

Marie says, “nothing productive is going to be said tonight,” at the beginning of their first argument, and unfortunately, she is right.

The bulk of the film involves Malcolm and Marie scream-shouting at one another from across the house. After they seemingly work through the argument and are giggling with one another on the couch, or on the floor kissing passionately, one always says something to the other to instigate another fight. 

For the short periods of time in which the two are not arguing or seemingly completely in love, Malcolm is ranting about the inadequacies of film criticism. 

Marie goes from praising Malcolm’s work to ripping it apart in mere seconds, making the film feel off-balance and confusing. Washington, who gives an intense and soulful performance throughout the movie, is unfortunately ill-served by such long and boring monologues.

Ultimately, Malcolm made a huge mistake, and he knows this and owns up to it. One of the best scenes in the film was Zendaya lying stretched out in a bathtub with Washington knelt by her side. In that moment, he tells her that he loves her. But he does not think she can simply accept this for what it is instead of trying to find some reason why he must “need” her. 

This acts as a metaphor for the entire film itself: although it seems full of complex opinions and emotions, when it comes down to it, it is simply about two self-absorbed people in what is obviously an extremely toxic relationship.

“Malcolm and Marie” can be streamed on Netflix.

Follow Zoe on Twitter @zoesaben.