Malcolm and Marie

Now streaming on Netflix, this movie is a well acted, beautifully shot disappointment. It has everything going for it except a script and a story.

The film stars John David Washington and Zendaya as Malcolm and Marie respectively. Malcolm is a filmmaker who has just premiered his breakout movie. At the premiere he made a big speech and forgot to thank Marie. This is doubly hurtful to her considering the movie is partially based on her life. An argument about this lack of gratitude tears a whole in their relationship and all the resentments and hostilities they’ve been bottling up come spilling out.

I talk all the time in reviews about acting and cinematography. Both elements are incredibly important to me especially in dramas. Without flashy special effects or action, you have to have great performances and compelling visuals to make a successful film. This movie has outstanding actors giving it their all and truly gorgeous cinematography. Unfortunately it doesn’t have much else. Without the rest it’s a hollow and forgettable endeavor.

The story here is nonexistent. It’s two people talking about events that took place in the past. What happens in the movie? They argue, then they seem to make up. This making up leads to sexual activity that quickly descends back into arguing about their past. Then they make up and almost have sex, but they quickly descend back into arguing about their past yet. This pattern continues until the film runs out of gas. It gets tiresome after about an hour. The problem is once I hit the hour mark, I checked and there was another forty five minutes left.

Some of the things they argue about are very compelling. They have a very interesting argument about carrying resentments and holding on to grudges. They have an engaging debate about telling your own story and authorship, but for the most part it’s just them yelling at each other about stuff that they did in the past. Most of the yelling takes place in long drawn out monologues. Big speeches designed to give the actors something to chew on. And chew they do, but when they aren’t saying something interesting it just becomes a lot of yelling.

This is some really good yelling, don’t get me wrong. Yelling isn’t always very good in movies, but this is some grade A yelling. John David Washington has a 7 minute rant in which he does battle with himself about a mixed review for his film. He’s great in the scene. I think what he’s saying is self centered, egotistical, crap, but he’s yelling it with conviction.

When they aren’t arguing about their sordid past, they’re arguing about movies. This is a movie made by filmmakers for filmmakers complaining about the film industry. That’s definitely compelling stuff if you’re a filmmaker pondering the eternal questions about film, but to an average viewer it’s just going to look like privileged people whining. They are working in one of the most exclusive industries in the world. They are living in a massive house that Malcolm’s production company paid for, and they are complaining about mixed reviews that were mostly positive.

Now it’s my turn to be positive. This movie was shot on black and white 35mm film. It looks amazing! I loved looking at this movie. I didn’t like listening to it, but I loved looking at it. It is seriously one of the most beautifully shot movies I’ve seen in a long time. It is stunning. They have incredible shots in this movie that convey so much subtext. Marie standing on a porch smoking, while Malcolm walks outside and stands in the yard. They are separated by a huge gulf of space, but contained within one shot. It’s glorious stuff. There’s an early scene in which Malcolm paces the living room. The camera follows Malcolm until it settles on Marie in key moments. Great stuff! I love the look of this movie!

Zendaya and Washington have great chemistry. They are truly equals in this movie. They listen and respond in kind to their scene partner. They have a wonderful give and take. Zendaya has moments of deeply felt emotional resonance. Washington tells her he loves her in a stunning close up that is deeply felt. It’s great acting.

Too bad it is a terrible script. I wish I could get over the script, but I can’t. I wanted to love this movie, but the movie falls apart completely because of the script. I’ve been trying to boil down my problems with the script. I think it comes down to one thing.

The first is that it never makes me care about their relationship. After five minutes I knew they should break up. They have a toxic relationship in which they are constantly tearing each other down and trying to hurt each other. They weaponize each other’s mistake to hurt each other in the arguments. I just wanted them to break up and walk away. I should’ve wanted them to work through it and stay together. Instead I just wanted them to break up and walk away.

I wanted to like this movie! I just couldn’t. I love the acting. I love the look, but I definitely think you can skip this one. Not really my cup of tea. C+

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