• Angus McGregor

'Malcolm & Marie' Review

Plot Synopsis: Following the greatest night in Malcolm's career, things take a nasty turn as a toxic relationship brings a night of tension and nasty revelations.

For the past couple of days now, reviews have been pouring in over Sam Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie, both scalding or hailing the film. Outrageous headlines dominated the Film Twittersphere making this is a must-watch ASAP, especially with its content that has gotten so many wound up.

It is to no surprise that the main aspect of this film that has dominated the discourse revolves around the harsh critique of modern film criticism. The main talking point in the majority of reviews surrounds massive chunks of dialogue where John David Washington’s writer/director character unleashes full-on explicit rants regarding film criticism and the fundamentals he disagrees with. According to many, these responses appear to mirror the real-life version of writer/director Sam Levinson, someone who received some scathing reviews in his last outing Assassination Nation - a film I haven’t seen so can’t fully comment on.

Within Washington’s character Malcolm’s rants, he lists off an abundance of issues he has with film criticism such as the constant search for something deeper, the over politicisation of certain stories involving minorities and how some critics can overindulge in themselves in their pieces. Within the long series’ of dialogue, there is a lot of honesty and to be quite frank, good points are made.

There are countless examples over the web of people trying to attach certain commentary or issues with the content or the creators themselves, sometimes taking massive leaps for a snappy take. The rant where he breaks down a review and dissects each part and although it’s full of praise, to him it misses the mark entirely. The key point from these scenes that I take is the line “none of it is necessary”. Many people get too caught in finding a reason for something to be necessary rather than why a creator has opted for such a decision, whether that be a director, producer, writer or even an actor. I believe that there are issues regarding criticism where things are completely overlooked in the search for an issue, leading to people being criticised for doing certain things that overstep their boundaries that have been strangely created lately. The film appears to be calling out a culture of “stay in your lane” within criticism which I feel is valid to an extent. Many creators find their works hounded due to certain aspects and not the film as a whole, with people trying to shape what is right or wrong from a moral standpoint rather than focussing on how it connects to the piece as a whole.

There are moments when Zendaya’s Marie talks some sense into Malcolm regarding some of the issues that he eventually agrees with. Different peoples perspectives shape how things are viewed and if anything, we as a whole have to start taking a moment to look deeper at why things have been done rather than pointing a finger immediately. Is this presented in a way that makes Levinson look like a bit of an arse? Absolutely and you’re more than right and entitled to think that. But there is truth as to what he is discussing in these scenes that show people like his points of view. Many will feel targeted from this piece but at the same time, it’s no real difference to a critic going full-on in a scathing review, just the roles are reversed. The discourse of this aspect of the film doesn’t seem like it will ever go away and is what dominates this films coverage, which is a shame as there is a really compelling dysfunctional love story being told here.

Depicting a couple who really should not be together, this is essentially 106 minutes of a toxic couple butting heads over and over again. The characters are clearly heading down the wrong route with incredibly visceral interactions where they are quite honestly vile to one another. There’s needless taunting within jabs that hold some merit as this couple go through a war in a nights time. To many, a piece that is basically entirely made up of an argument will seem like a horrible task to watch but in this case, it is unbelievably compelling.

Despite the content of the film being undoubtedly negative, you can’t take your eyes away from everything that is happening. Taking it in turns, each side of the argument comes back with startling revelations that is full of punches each and every time. Sometimes the writing is a little bit inconsistent with certain spiels being much more effective than others but it really does capture the hostile environment incredibly well. Another issue with these scenes is how they connect to one another and how random it appears to be. Perhaps it’s a signal of the relationship as they go from lovey-dovey to verbally abusing one another but these segments really don’t blend as well as Levinson would hope. This erratic nature may be common within couples in relationships like this where things can turn at the flick of a switch but at times it really just comes out of nowhere. The film isn’t aided by the lack of context given to the audience but that isn’t something that can be overly dwelled on.

John David Washington and Zendaya are absolutely phenomenal in their roles as they are fully committed to creating a harrowing realistic experience. The duo are tasked with long daunting scenes that are filled with monologues as well as constant movement that seem like an exhausting task. Both show their extreme talents and do a great job of maintaining the attention of the viewer, very necessary considering they are the only people to appear in the film. The previous paragraphs have highlighted the long scenes where the actors have long scenes full of dialogue that showcase their talents and the same has to be said for when their character is on the receiving end. Some of the best work from Zendaya is done when she doesn't say anything, particularly a scene in a bathtub where she is truly remarkable. It can't be stressed enough as to how powerful and excellent these two performances are and it sadly seems to be getting lost in the discourse of this film.

I really found this film and the discussions around it extremely interesting, although I think the film itself deserves more of a spotlight than the discourse of a certain part. For the 106 minutes, this film will compel you and does certainly seem to be one that draws one of two responses, you think it’s dross or are very impressed. For me, I’m more of the latter as I thought this had some good ideas amongst a strong drama with fantastic performances. It isn’t without its faults and your opinion of the creator may take a beating but Malcolm & Marie certainly brings something interesting to the table, for better or worse.

Rating 4/5

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