Review by Camden Ferrell
Last year, when most productions halted due to COVID-19, Sam Levinson (Euphoria) wrote a feature length script in the matter of six days. This would soon become the first movie to be written and made secretly during the pandemic. The final product, Malcolm & Marie, is an expertly written and acted drama that is equal parts poignant and visceral.
Malcolm is a filmmaker who returns home with his girlfriend, Marie, after the premiere of his most recent movie. While they await to hear the critical response to his film, revelations are made that lead to an intense examination of their relationship and its flaws. It’s a minimalistic premise for obvious reasons, but it works effectively in telling a story about the relationship and the turmoil between two people.
Levinson’s script is one of the most impressive dialogue-driven scripts in years. It is almost exclusively conversational dialogue that never feels bland or repetitive. In addition to his recent work on Euphoria, this further establishes Levinson as a singular talent that has an intelligent and unique perspective. The movie is full of great interactions and observations, and the dialogue feels very dramatic and raw while also maintaining its realism.
The most commendable aspect of the film is its performances. John David Washington and Zendaya co-star as Malcolm and Marie, respectively. Washington excels as a vibrant and somewhat self-obsessed director as he monologues about his role and beliefs as an artist and as a professional. Zendaya is astonishingly impressive as she also monologues about her own personal traumas and her role in her relationship. Their chemistry is undeniable, and they both deliver awe-inspiring performances that warrant significant awards consideration.
The cinematography by Marcell Rév (Euphoria) is simple yet dazzling in how it intimately frames its subjects in its single location. The motion of the camera and the composition of its shot adds a layer of kinetic energy that infuses life into the already lively performances. It elevates the film and contributes to the superficial beauty of it.
The movie is a masterclass in how to maintain audience interest when action is almost nonexistent. Levinson blocks his actors and executes his scenes in a way that firmly maintains pace, tension, and audience engagement. It’s a testament to his abilities as a writer and director as well as the abilities of his cast.
Aside from how it examines the dynamics of its titular couple, the movie is also a poignant exploration of filmmaking as an artform and artistry. It doesn’t shy away from discussing how Malcolm’s race affects the perception of his work as well as how Malcolm himself reacts to said perception. It tackles timely subjects about race and filmmaking that are extremely topical and fantastically delivered by Washington.
Malcolm & Marie is a triumph of filmmaking, and it is a showcase for the immense talent of its cast and crew. This is a film that is nearly perfect from start to finish, and it doesn’t lose any steam throughout its runtime. A delightful surprise at the start of the new year, this is an engaging and emotional film that is not to be missed.
Malcolm & Marie is streaming on Netflix February 5.