I finally watched Malcolm and Marie on Sunday to see what the fuss is about. The film – a Netflix original featuring the actors Zendaya and John David Washington – went live on the streaming platform in the UK on February 5th. It has entered most people’s radar because of the controversy surrounding the age gap between the two main actors – with Zendaya being 24 and John being 36. However, much of this discussion happened before the film had even become available – many have now said the age gap is hardly noticeable in the film and if anything, is quite common for those who work in the film industry, like the character Malcolm does.
The film starts off with a couple coming back home from the screening of Malcolm’s film – of which he’s ecstatic about since it seems to have gone well. However, Marie doesn’t seem as happy and he wants to know why.
Viewers are constantly on the outside during this film…something epitomised in the film’s shots at the start, where the camera lingers outside and lets us peek into what Malcolm and Malcolm are doing inside the house. That feeling of looking from the outside never really leaves though and this is because, even as we get familiar with both characters – they each struggle to let us (and each other) in fully.
Interestingly, it is hard to pinpoint the two characters fully- however, here is what can be gauged quite easily from viewing the film. Malcolm is a college-educated man, and a deep thinker. He definitely has short fuse though, as is seen from the explosive scenes of chaos that pop up frequently within the film. Although aware of the greys that exist in the world, he seems to see the world through a simple lens of black and white. He also seems to have ego the size of America itself – much to Marie’s annoyance.
Marie, we discover had a bad drug habit at a young age and presumably a troublesome childhood. She models although she once had dreams of acting which she eventually abandoned. She has a dry sense of humour but is deeply internally troubled – trying to escape a past which she still thinks haunts her. Most of the time she seems to brood in silence – a personality which noticeably contrasts Malcolm’s, a man who seems to be very expressive, a wearer of his heart on his sleeve.
What we witness during the film is what can only be a build-up of troubles that have accumulated during the discourse of Malcolm and Marie’s relationship. Although Malcolm mentions them being together at 70, you do genuinely wonder – will they ever make that stage? Behind every layer of love you sense between the two partners, there also seems to be underlying resentment – and vice versa. The entanglement between the two feelings leaves us uncertain of the direction of the relationship right until the last few minutes of the film.
Keeping it Real
Many tweets I scrolled through applauded Malcolm & Marie for its nuanced and realistic portrayal of a relationship. I can see why; the film focuses entirely on the nitty-gritty parts of a romantic relationship – the type most films typically only spend 10-20 minutes on. The insecurities that lurk in your mind. The ‘What-ifs’ that make you doubt your choice of partner. The feeling of being seen but not properly heard by your partner. These are all aspects touched on that are likely very common in romantic relationships and grow the longer you’re in them. The film provides a subtle lesson in the importance of communication and the danger of complacency in any relationship.
This review wouldn’t be doing the film justice if I didn’t mention its beautiful cinematography which I have to applaud. Its 60s-esque black and white appearance gives it a simple and refreshing feel. This simplicity it creates is compounded by the use of only two characters and one setting for the entire film.
Overall, the film has many strengths going for it; strong cinematography, great songs and acting, for starters. Zendaya’s knife scene and monologue towards the end from her bed are definitely stand-out scenes, too. However, the film felt slightly dragged out to me and towards the middle, boredom was niggling at my brain. Some films with this format – limited characters and scenes – do work (I recommend American Son on Netflix). However, the ‘will they/ won’t they stay together?’ was not enough to keep me entertained throughout. There needs to be some sort of movement in the plot line towards the end and the characters need to be fleshed out enough to get us to care for them. Neither seems to be the case with Malcolm and Marie unfortunately.
Yet, with Oscar seasoning soon arriving, will the film be included in any award nominations? Well, we’ll have to wait and find out…