Review: Netflix’s ‘Malcolm & Marie’ is too abstract

TRL's Ryan Wang said that

Courtesy of Philly Voice

TRL’s Ryan Wang said that “Malcolm & Marie” is “dragged out” and an “unneeded perspective on passionate love.”

Too often do audiences in our era get caught up in the glamorous and action-focused aspects found within movies, with Hollywood slowly evolving into more of a film factory vying for box office success, rather than producing raw, palpable forms of artistic expression. It’s why visionary films that embody a deeper meaning, that don’t follow standard story arcs, that strive to capture the abstract, can be difficult for widespread consumption and enjoyment. Netflix’s latest two-hander project, “Malcolm & Marie,” was created with a bold vision that looked to tell the chaotic story of unstable love, while aiming to break the fourth wall by subtly criticizing film critics themselves. But all in all, this project can be perceived as too abstract, too artistic to be anything but a short film. Instead, it runs on for 106 minutes, most of which is excessively unnecessary. 

It’s adamant that as the movie begins, they’re a strong vision in place in terms of production style, how characters will interact, and how conflicts can arise and dissipate. In fact, writer and director Sam Levinson, who first rose to prominence for his hit HBO series “Euphoria,” presents a captivating first 25 minutes. The entire film is in black and white, a welcome change of pace towards the beginning, but seems to be weighing down the film as it drags on. Splashes of color are desperately needed, but instead, the scenes fade in and out without really any emotion attached to them. Again, shooting a film in this era that is completely black and white is perfectly acceptable for a short film, but not a full-fledged drama blockbuster. 

Everything that needed to be expressed in this story was adequate and beautifully portrayed at the beginning of the movie. It’s arguable that the first 25 minutes could have been its own standalone short film, and reception may have been much more positive. In those first few moments, we’re introduced to Malcolm (John David Washington), whose narcissistic tendencies and obsession with his work as a filmmaker overshadows his attention and relationship with his partner Marie (Zendaya). There’s a distinct tension between the duo, and a certain eeriness of how relationships can run cold embodies every scene, mainly because of the lack of color which was no doubt an artistic choice by the visionary Levinson. Both Washington and Zendaya portray their roles seamlessly, and their every moment and conversations feel genuine. It’s screen chemistry that is rare, but desperately crucial. 

However, despite the beginning of the movie being relatable, interesting, and most importantly, watchable, the next 80 or so minutes seem to lack any real information. Anything that was important to understand between the stories of both Malcolm and Marie can be gathered in that first half-hour, with the rest reminiscent of a broken record attempting to replay the exact same conversations and the exact same conflicts. It’s boring, unnecessary, and painfully predictable, and it’s clear that both Washington and Zendaya are doing all they can with the lines they are given. Aside from a few powerful monologues that seem to develop this story slightly, the lack of content hurts this story, and the blame really falls upon Levinson, whose directing and writing in this film pales in comparison to Euphoria. 

The dialogue quickly transitions from being personal, to uncomfortably scripted. It’s hard to believe that Levinson had envisioned the arguments between the two characters to be repetitive on purpose, as if to highlight the pesky and unwilling-to-back-down nature between them. But even then, their arguments and fights are even really arguments; they’re powerful monologues that only tell their side of the story. While they add depth to their own characters and narratives, they feel overwhelmingly scripted and disingenuous. People don’t tend to have arguments in monologue format, and it only affects how extensive their stories really could have been. For powerful actors like Washington and Zendaya who are renowned for their ability to add needed depth to conflicted scenes, the entire film comes off as disappointingly shallow. 

“Malcolm and Marie” was never intended to be a large production film that could rake in profit and prominence, but was rather meant to be an artistic expression by the directors and actors. But in the end, what could have been a powerful and emotional short film, dragged on to become an unneeded perspective on chaotic love. Levinson, Washington, and Zendaya produced a cinematic experience that harnesses the aspects of black and white film fairly well, but fails to harness the aspects of humanity in their performance.

Rating: C