It’s weird reviewing this after the film spends 99% of its runtime arguing that critics have no clue what they are talking about. But here I am.
Malcolm and Marie isn’t perfect but proves that Sam Levinson is one of the most exciting and promising writer/director. Assassination Nation was incredibly underrated. (If you haven’t watched it yet, I highly recommend it.) But Levinson will be most known to most by the men who adapted Euphoria for HBO and has since created one of the most unique television programs. The thing is, Euphoria and Assassination Nation are two highly stylized shows that relied heavily on music, editing and visuals in order to hit at the maximum impact. Malcolm and Marie is the exact opposite. A stripped-down film, with two actors having nothing but themselves and the set. At times, it feels like a play, the words flowing with a particular rhythm. At others, you can feel its length and constraints, because Malcolm and Marie is a product of its time. A film created, written, shot and edited in the middle of a pandemic and forced to adapt the filmmaking process in order to keep everyone as safe as possible. Sometimes it works, others it doesn’t. But that’s okay because even with its flaws, it is impossible to not look at it as an incredible piece of art elevated by two actors who hit home runs after home runs.
Malcolm and Marie doesn’t reinvent the concept of a film taking place in one place. Really, the difference is that it is an original feature instead of an adaptation of a play. Because everything about this film feels like a play. Levinson uses a lot of the screenplay to expose his grievance with criticisms and it is clear from very early on that John David Washington’s character is a vessel for his emotions and what he truly feels. It doesn’t work at all time, the movie really being at its best when it’s about the relationship and not Levinson’s beef with “The White Lady from The L.A Times”. It is clear that Levinson’s writing is at his strongest when he writes about the relationship, but too often, he gets lost in his annoyance and brings the film down in the process.
Zendaya is at her best here. And I know, this is a weird statement to say after she gave us such a strong performance not only in the first season of Euphoria but also in the special episodes. But, Malcolm and Marie is the best she has ever been, the role made for her to prove once and for all that the Disney Child Star is completely gone. Don’t be surprised if come Oscars she finds herself at the forefront of the conversation for a win because Sam Levinson gave her the perfect script for her talent and proves that this duo will be one to look out for in the future. This is Zendaya’s film, created and moulded for her to be at her best, suiting her needs. There isn’t a moment where she isn’t in complete control, where she doesn’t know exactly what she is doing. It’s a performance that is beyond her age and makes her future even more exciting than it already was.
John David Washington is probably at the best he has ever been, but even at his best, he can never be on the same level as Zendaya. Washington often gets criticized for not being charismatic enough but with this one, he bleeds charisma off the screen. The problem is, Zendaya is opposite him. He does his best to hang with her but even in his best moments, she outshines him completely. He gets the more “boring” character if I can say that. The one that mostly is there to frustrate Zendaya’s Marie so that she can have her moments, but he does get scenes where I could not take my eyes off him. It is also the first time where every time I heard him talk, all I could hear was Denzel talking.
Malcolm and Marie prove that Levinson is a writer/director that clearly has more than one skill. That he doesn’t need all the flashy things that Euphoria gives him in order to craft a feature that works. It does help that he gets to direct Zendaya and it is clear that this will become a duo that will work together for a long time. It is also impressive to watch this knowing that it was all done during the height of the pandemic. Is it perfect? No, but it is still one of those films that by the end, I was just screaming at Zendaya because she just kept hitting it out of the par