Friday 5 February 2021

Malcolm & Marie (Movie Review)

Netflix seems to be really doubling down on its love for black and white movies lately. Just last year, we got both The Forty-Year-Old Version and Mank, two very different yet equally brilliant films about struggling artists navigating their way through their respective industries. The latter would even go on to score some big nominations at the forthcoming Golden Globes. And now we have Malcolm & Marie, an emotional rollercoaster of a film starring Zendaya and John David Washington.

The latter plays Malcolm, an up-and-coming film director whose latest movie just had its Hollywood premiere, while the former plays Marie, his girlfriend. Having just returned from what was an otherwise successful first showing for his film, the couple intend to spend the rest of the evening together, waiting for the first reviews to show up online. But what was meant to be a night of celebration quickly turns tempestuous when bottled up feelings are let loose, threatening to derail their plans.

Anyone going into Malcolm & Marie expecting a feel-good romance would most likely come out of it feeling sorely disappointed. Despite being billed as such, the film threads the lines of something closer to a psychological drama than a romantic one, despite having romance elements. Basically, if your idea of a good time is watching a couple get into back-to-back arguments over the course of one night, then boy are you in for a treat. But chances are that is not the case, which is why the movie might feel like a bit of a drag for most.

Both John David Washington and Zendaya prove to be charismatic leads though, with the actors holding their own and ensuring that the movie never became less than intriguing. But they were ultimately letdown by a story that couldn't seem to decide what it was trying to say for much of its run-time. One moment the film could be attempting to dissect the core issues at the heart of the couple's relationship, the next it turns its focus on Hollywood and its need for political correctness in this day and age.

This lent the movie a rather jumbled up message that never became any clearer as the movie went along. That said, I did really enjoy whenever it touched upon the disparities between an artist's vision and a reviewer's interpretation of that work. I just wish those discussions had been had in a much better context, and not in the shadow of a relationship that seemed to be heading for the rocks.

Another aspect of the movie I really enjoyed was its cinematography, from smooth tracking shots that always ensured both actors were in frame when they needed to be, to closeups that really served to heighten their emotions as their arguments heated up. The movie itself was shot during the coronavirus lockdowns, and it shows, with its single-location setting and dialogue-heavy screenplay. But the way it was presented, in stunning black and white, made certain that it was never anything short of captivating.

Malcolm & Marie is far from what I would call essential viewing. It is certainly not a feel-good romance. But that is not an inherently bad thing as it paints a picture of a more realistic romance that was oftentimes relatable. The movie is definitely worth checking out on the strength of its two leads alone. Just don't expect the kind of gratification you'd get from your typical romantic fare.