Feb 19, 2021 | LIFE | By Andrew Rodden | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian
Sam Levinson lacks any self-awareness whatsoever in his newest film “Malcolm & Marie.” Known for writing and directing the hit HBO series “Euphoria” (2019-present), Levinson’s third feature-length film is astonishingly bad.
The movie opens with filmmaker Malcolm (John David Washington) and his girlfriend, Marie (Zendaya), returning to their spacious California house after Malcolm’s film premiere. Marie is upset at Malcolm for not acknowledging her in his speech at the screening, resulting in a massive argument between the pair. The film depicts this argument, following threads of Malcolm’s frustrations with critics of his work, Marie’s role in his life, and other topics that simply entered my attention, and immediately left.
The two characters frequently hurl vitriol and verbal poison at each other, targeting their most vulnerable traumas, but in the subsequent scene, it’s like they never said anything. Then they get back at it, attacking each other, again followed by a truce. These skirmishes never build to anything, and after the second time this hot and cold dynamic cycles over, Levinson fails to bring anything new or interesting to the next back-and-forth.
I struggle to find any redeeming factors of the film. The pacing is painfully slow, the black-and-white cinematography does nothing to serve the story, and the story itself is mostly a waste of 35 mm film. There are several moments when the actors can’t even keep up with the painstakingly wordy script – it is clearly a mouthful for them! With such a clunky screenplay, it is difficult to applaud these two perfectly adept actors’ poor performances.
The clunky – and likely, underdeveloped – script is the critical flaw of “Malcolm & Marie,” and for a feature film whose efficacy and artistry is built upon such a weak foundation, it was destined to crumble. The catastrophic failure isn’t even a spectacular one – it just leads to a wasted evening staring at your computer.
Sure, one might disagree with the content and themes of the dialogue (I personally think it’s whiney, meaningless, and misguided, sort of like an undergrad essay), but the ultimate sin is its repetition, and with that comes redundancy. The amount of meaningful content in “Malcolm & Marie” could be trimmed down to the length of a short film, maybe only 10 minutes. The movie’s 106-minute runtime is ultimately unwarranted.
I wish I was surprised at Netflix for purchasing this movie for $20 million, but “Malcom & Marie” plays into the same pattern of Hollywood sickos thinking American audiences care as much about their problems as they do. I’m sorry, but that money could have been better spent elsewhere.
“Malcolm & Marie” represents the worst of today’s cinematic landscape. It’s not just a bad movie, it’s forgettable; another disposable product posing as cinema for Netflix to buy and dump into our troughs. If this is the future for movies in the U.S., well, that’s not a future I want to imagine.