By Lynn Venhaus
The long-winded intimate relationship drama “Malcolm & Marie” explores both the public and the private side of a young power couple in Hollywood, as well as the minefield of working together or choosing not to, during one long night.
When a filmmaker (John David Washington) returns to the lush seaside home the studio has rented for him in Malibu, along with his girlfriend (Zendaya), after his successful movie premiere, they wait for the reviews. Their conversation begins to break down the events of the night as they affect their relationship, and some ugly truths are revealed. Their love is tested by forces within and the career paths they have chosen.
The tone and the temperature shift as Malcolm and Marie, rising stars John David Washington, 36, and Zendaya, 24, talk through festering resentments, bruised egos and their personal and career choices for 1 hour and 46 minutes. By mid-film, it feels like one long tedious and repetitive domestic argument, as they roam about the place, venting, defensive and tired, with pent-up passion.
How much you buy into their union will depend on whose side you’re on, and I’m on Team Marie.
The pair – who also produced – have an interesting dynamic together, but as the relationship is the definition of complicated – and frustrating, it’s hard to understand the commitment. There is plenty of navel-gazing. What happens when daylight breaks can be anyone’s guess.
Zendaya is a natural force destined for a huge career, and she is relentless here, displaying anger, pain and exasperation. Marie is not just going to be the girl on his arm, demanding that she not be ignored.
She is mad because Malcolm – self-absorbed, vain – forgot to thank her and appropriated her life story for the film. But didn’t cast her. Oh, does she have some questions. He is very reliant on her as a partner who attends to his needs and has a short lease. But does that translate to appreciating her?
John David Washington, who exploded onto the scene with “BlacKkKlansman” but was miscast in “Tenet,” has a tougher time gaining our sympathy here as he tries to explain/excuse his behavior. Their delivery is rat-a-tat-tat, so hang on, because the dialogue can leave little time for coming up for air, and at times, is exhausting.
Writer-director Sam Levinson, creator of HBO series “Euphoria,” which stars Emmy-winning Zendaya, took pen to paper during the pandemic. He is the son of Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson, so he’s been around the business his entire life. This script is very inside Hollywood – and in a good way, tackles systemic racism in showbiz. Malcolm takes issue with a certain white female critic, who actually fawned over his brilliance.
One of the drawbacks here is that Malcolm is supposed to be this hotshot phenom, but we can’t see if his work is any good – we can only take the opinions of critics (wink).
And why does he treat Marie in an unequal manner while professing his love?
Shooting in a stylish contemporary home in Carmel, Calif., in black-and-white, cinematographer Marvell Rev’s silky work is exquisite. The black-and-white aspect keeps our focus on the couple, not the accoutrements.
The self-indulgent script needed more context for the characters. I wanted characters with some gravitas. Malcolm’s character never struggled.
“Malcolm & Marie” succeeds as a showcase for two young talents but the overstuffed script is hard to get behind.
“Malcolm & Marie” is a drama directed and written by Sam Levinson, and stars John David Washington and Zendaya. Rated R for pervasive language and sexual content, the movie runs 1 hour and 46 minutes. In theaters now and on Netflix beginning Feb. 5. Lynn’s Grade is C+.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.