On Feb. 5, Malcolm and Marie, starring Zendaya and John David Washington, was released on Netflix. The experimental film, written and directed by Euphoria creator Sam Levinson, is a single set film taking place over one night. It follows filmmaker Malcolm (Washington) and his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya) after they return home from the premiere of his new film where he regrettably neglected to thank her in his speech. What begins as a seemingly petty fight, ultimately leads to a powerful unraveling of the couple’s true feelings over the course of several hours. The film takes many risks in both cinematography and writing. Similar to a stage play, the film relies solely on drawn out monologues and conversations to move the plot along. Malcolm and Marie is something certain people will appreciate while others will feel is time that could be better spent elsewhere.
Malcolm and Marie is set in the present day, but is portrayed in black and white, causing it to feel contradictory. Not only is the film set in modern times, but it also contains modern themes, cultural references and language. This contradiction is something we rarely see and I wonder if that is a good thing. The dialogue and conversations about Hollywood and contemporary culture all felt necessary and relevant, making the color grading feel more like an unnecessary distraction.
Something I did very much appreciate was the play-like element of the film. The monologues—especially those performed by Zendaya—were undoubtedly what made the film worth watching. At times the film felt slow and made you wonder why they don’t just go to bed, but then there were moments of truth and vulnerability that made the conversation feel not only necessary for them to have, but for us, the audience, to hear as well. If the film had moved quickly—like a typical movie—we would have missed out on those key moments.
The most compelling concept explored throughout the film is the way it seesawed back and forth between love and hate—between fighting and intimacy. This is something that is not often dissected in film, but is very common in real life. Throughout the evening, Malcolm and Marie express their love physically despite their constant fighting. They teeter in and out of emotions—from resentment and disappointment to desire. Despite the film taking place within a window of several hours, the characters’ vast assortment of emotions is meant to be indicative of their relationship on a much larger scale.
Being that the only two characters in Malcolm and Marie are a filmmaker and actress, there is no question that this film caters to artists. The risks it takes in both presentation and dialogue may not be what the average movie-watcher wants, but nevertheless serves a purpose. With that being said, Malcolm and Marie will certainly not be a film that appeals to everyone, but will surely leave a mark on some.
‘Malcolm and Marie’ is available to stream on Netflix.