“As a filmmaker and his girlfriend return home from his movie premiere, smoldering tensions and painful revelations push them toward a romantic reckoning.”
And to think that it all started with a thank you, or rather, a lack thereof. Everything about Malcolm and Marie, from its trailer and aesthetically pleasing black-and-white cinematography to the above description on Netflix, promised an artistically powerful film about the unraveling of a romantic relationship and the epiphanies that follow. However, the final product of the film strays far from the cinematic masterpiece that we were promised.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many major Hollywood productions have come to a screeching halt, leaving writers and directors to ask themselves, “how do I make a movie with as few people as possible?” Malcolm and Marie is the direct product of such a question. Sam Levinson, best known for creating the teen drama series Euphoria for HBO, wrote and directed the Netflix film, which takes place in the same house and only stars two people for its entire runtime.
The film follows a young couple, beginning with their return home from a film premiere. Malcolm (John David Washington) is a confident man and up-and-coming director, riding the high of his first film premiere and the many praises that he received at the afterparty. His girlfriend Marie (Zendaya), on the other hand, appears cold and distant at the start of the film. While he is loudly singing and celebrating his monumental accomplishment, she passive-aggressively prepares a box of Kraft mac-n-cheese.
It doesn’t take long for the couple to jump into what may be one of the biggest, most dramatic couple’s fights in film history. After Malcolm repeatedly pesters Marie to tell him what’s wrong, she wastes no time diving into the single reason that fuels the rest of the film: Malcolm’s speech at the premiere. He thanked everyone in his life but Marie, and it’s not a mistake that she’s willing to overlook or forgive anytime soon.
What follows is an hour and 40 minutes of incessant yelling, bickering, and hurling cruel insults at each other as the night slowly marches on. What started out as a missing “thank you” quickly evolves into Marie wanting more credit in their relationship, as Malcolm furiously retaliates to defend himself. Through their conversations and arguments, it is revealed that Malcolm’s film is a drama about a young Black woman who is struggling with drug addiction. Marie firmly believes that this character is based on her, and is adamant to know why Malcolm did not give her the recognition she deserves when his film would not have existed without her.
As the film carries on, there is a constant back and forth between loud arguing and a temporary resolution. After Malcolm and Marie spend a good 50 minutes yelling and degrading each other with extremely hurtful words, they find a bit of much-needed calm. However, this peace is short-lived. As Malcolm receives a notification for the first written review of his film, he flies into a rage. We are shown a drawn-out frenzy of Malcolm complaining about the review, as he erupts into a long monologue about how he is criticized as a Black creator and everything that is wrong with his film review. His voice does not go below yelling volume the entire time, making this scene feel more like a child’s tantrum than a serious commentary on Black creators and how they are framed in the media. The scene comes off as ridiculous and melodramatic, and is much too lengthy for getting the point across.
While the house in the film is quite large and extravagant, the loud and aggressive presence of the two characters can make viewers feel claustrophobic. This uncomfortable sentiment is comparable to how most of us have probably felt while stuck indoors during the pandemic, as well as during this currently brutal winter weather. The film leaves very little room for pleasant, thoughtful pauses, or any kind of real reconciliation between Malcolm and Marie that leaves viewers with proper closure and satisfaction. You know that really uncomfortable feeling you get when you visit a friend’s house, and their parents are fighting in front of you? Malcolm and Marie is basically that feeling, manifested into an entire feature length movie.
While watching, it’s easy to see what the film was trying to achieve. It does a good job of steadily revealing Marie’s own troubled past with addiction, as well as the state of the two’s relationship and how Malcolm’s film has impacted them both in their personal and romantic lives. However, it’s hard to convince yourself to watch an almost two hour movie when the only thing that happens is two people arguing with each other. The film’s description claims that the two find a “romantic reckoning,” but when the film is over and done with it doesn’t feel like anything has been achieved or changed. They both seem as unhappy and needy as they did when the film started. The lack of character development is telling when it comes to the poor quality of the plot itself.
Simply put, Malcolm and Marie is boring and just too long, in exchange for little entertainment value. I’ve never been a fan of movies that decide to be long just for the sake of being long, and Malcom and Marie doesn’t have the payoff that makes its runtime worth it. If its drawn-out argument scenes had been condensed some more, it might have accomplished what it wanted to do and also been a decent watch for viewers. Under the guise of being artful, dramatic, and thought-provoking, the film seemed promising at first, but it ended up being a massive waste of time. There’s nothing interesting or super creative about two people loudly yelling at each other, and it’s hard to make the argument that people would want to spend hours of their precious free time watching it. The plot of Malcolm and Marie can basically be summarized in two minutes, and that, in my opinion, is a lot better than wasting two hours.