Written & Directed by: #SamLevinson
Over the past few years, audiences have witnessed a cinematic rewinding of time, as the use of black-and-white picture begins its re-immergence into main-stream movies. From Best Picture nominee Roma, to Robert Eggers supernatural sea-shanty The Lighthouse, some of today’s most prolific directors are journeying back to the time of simpler color palates; and with last year’s Mank (David Fincher) and the criminally underappreciated 40-Year-Old-Version (Radha Blank), this filmmaking trend does not seem to be slowing down. Enter Malcolm & Marie, the latest entry into the colorless category of feature films which, despite its similar appearance to the movies listed above, sadly lacks the narrative strength to reach the same heights.
Written and directed by Sam Levinson (best known for his work on the HBO series Euporia), Malcolm & Marie tells the fraught, one night story of a young couple and their tumultuous, emotionally abusive relationship. Taking place (in real time) on the night of Malcolm’s directorial film premiere, what follows is a cyclical exploration of a couple constantly on the brink of verbal combat. Set completely in one location (the modern, secluded house rented for the couple by Malcolm’s producer) the audience bears witness to the constant dismantling and rebuilding of the couple’s relationship here in this bright and minimalist setting.
Shot on 35mm black-and-white film, the movie looks and feels breathtakingly beautiful. The work from Levinson’s longtime photography collaborator Marcell Rév is superb, with his strong cinematography complemented by Levinson’s bold direction. This, when considering that Malcolm & Marie was one of the first films to be written and shot during the pandemic, only heightens the artistic ability involved from the majorly reduced crew. The viewer is constantly thrown back-and-forth between distant, almost omniscient wide-angle shots, and disarmingly intimate closeups of our two leads.
The leads themselves (being the only two characters in the entire film), are phenomenal. Zendaya, fresh off her Emmy win for Levinson’s aforementioned Euphoria, and Tenet star John David Washington bounce off each other with such ferocity and desire that the audience begins to understand both the love, and the hate involved in their relationship. The long and emotionally demanding monologues which make up the majority the movie are performed with such a skill and a raw-ness that it soon becomes uncertain who’s perspective the viewer should believe. Scenery is chewed, and protagonist swaps for antagonist on a near constant basis thanks to the versatility and depth of these two performers.
However, inspired direction, beautiful cinematography and power-house performances still don’t do enough to save this film from its own screenplay. While the dialogue from Levinson is well executed, the plot itself leaves the viewer feeling stuck in the same fight as our leads, resolving and restarting every few scenes. While this was undoubtedly a conscious choice by the filmmakers to explore the cyclical nature of tension in a relationship, it still doesn’t progress the story towards anything resembling a satisfying finale, feeling more meditation than narrative.
Nevertheless, for the sheer artistic ability on display throughout the entire piece, Malcolm & Marie remains a film very much worth watching, despite any frustrations which might arise from a lack of narrative climax.