Movie Review: Malcom & Marie

Review by: Raghav Raj

Director: Sam Levinson

Rating: 2/10

The first thing you notice about Malcolm & Marie, the latest project from Sam Levinson (creator of the hit HBO show Euphoria), is how sumptuous it looks. 

The 35-mm black-and-white film it’s shot on offers a certain grain to the visual imagery of its spacious beach house setting, playing up the contrasts that Levinson seeks to identify through his pair of central characters, a director and his lover returning from the premiere of his latest film. The camera glides through the house’s angular corners and doorways, visually as smooth and sleek as the metal fixtures and granite countertops that Levinson often fixates upon.

Like those metal fixtures and these granite countertops, however, Malcolm & Marie is an experience that feels utterly cold to the touch, wholly lifeless and painfully stiff. 

Once the novelty of the visuals wears off, all that’s left is an experience so unbearably hollow and so stiflingly vapid that I can’t really imagine the prospect of anyone enjoying it. This is a grating, utterly punishing movie without a single thing to say, taking an hour and a half and stretching it into an eternity of repetitive, rage-drunk monologues and varied histrionics.

For the most part, I can’t really blame the acting here. John David Washington, as Malcolm, really just sounds like he’s trying his best as he huffs and puffs through an endless stream of furious ranting, as if he’s attempting to carry the film on his bombast alone. He’s matched by Zendaya, as Marie, turning in a decent performance even though her character’s subtleties are overtly magnified while her theatrical flair is far too underdeveloped.

Mostly, the burden of the film’s failures are placed on the script, a whopping 92-page behemoth that was written entirely by Levinson, and makes you painfully aware of that fact with every word.

Besides the fact that Levinson just isn’t a good writer — he’s all too intent on circling back to the same argument over and over again, painfully unoriginal when he’s not saying something immensely stupid — there are aspects of this script that feel genuinely unpleasant and absurdly childish, as if Levinson’s entire motivation behind this film was to just be really really mad at film critics who don’t like his work.

He often uses Malcolm as a self-insert, which is odd enough as is, but even weirder when considering how often Malcolm discusses being a Black filmmaker whose work is presented to a white audience. Levinson, a white man, has absolutely no jurisdiction or room for anything resembling insight here, and as a result, there is no nuance or profundity in Malcolm’s dialogues about white critics discussing black art. Malcolm is effectively just a Black mouthpiece for Levinson to hide behind, a way to make his petulant, seething rage towards critics who don’t like his work feel justified as racial commentary.

It is the central conceit of Malcolm & Marie, and the reason that this film was doomed from the start. To say that Malcolm & Marie is a “defense of black art,” as Levinson has claimed before, is misguided and utterly incorrect. This film isn’t a defense, and it’s barely even art. All it is, quite simply, is the stroking of a trust fund director’s fragile ego, an angry, exhausting bore with nothing much to offer at all.