Synopsis: Malcolm and Marie follow a couple returning home from a major movie premiere. Malcolm (John David Washington) brashly celebrates his first major success as a director, while Marie (Zendaya) contentiously questions Malcolm’s clear inspirations from her life story. The night turns into a battleground as the partners spar over their problems and insecurities.
Acting as a clever byproduct of the COVID quarantine, Euphoria creator Sam Levinson’s latest effort Malcolm and Marie highlights modern filmmakers’ adaptability amidst challenging circumstances. Levinson’s direction forms an explosive, character-driven piece led by two of Hollywood’s best upcoming talents. His vision appears ripe with fascinating wrinkles, but his tirelessly smug and self-righteous delivery undercuts the effort at every turn.
John David Washington and Zendaya have shined brightly in different platforms (Washington was a fixture on Ballers while Zendaya already has an Emmy win to her name). Malcolm and Marie mark their best big-screen work to date though, gifting the stars two roles bursting with dramatic urgency. Washington draws audiences in through suave energy before revealing Malcolm’s arrogant controlling streak, creating a balance of personas that’s well-sold through the actor’s committed delivery.
Zendaya’s commanding dynamism feels ever-apparent onscreen, with her cunning wit and emotional authenticity eliciting a few emotionally raw frames. Levinson’s lively visual hand also operates as a fitting companion to the showy dialogue frames. His mixture of simple, yet assured framing techniques properly elevates the simmering emotions drifting towards a full boil.
Malcolm and Marie boldly lay out a critical inditement of Hollywood culture, taking to task film critics’ smarmy embrace of politically correct values, the director’s vulgar obsessive streaks, and the way both sides of the coin objectify women through a simplistic gaze. All these problematic facets are worthy of thoughtful critiques, but Levinson’s sanctimonious delivery registers with a blunt obviousness. The writer/director implements several sprawling speeches that drag out their intended impact, oftentimes shouting his central point with a lack of grace. The verbose, yet hollow delivery ends up morphing the promising characters into empty ciphers for Levinson’s thematic intentions.
Levinson’s bombastic approach exhausts itself long before the credits scroll. The constant fights reach a repetitive cycle that restricts the potential of the narrative nucleus, leading to Levinson’s effort often feeling like its treading water without a clear pathway. Good performances can only do so much when the film surrounding them looks to simplify character dimensions into straightforward banter. As the diatribes get louder and louder, Levinson’s well-meaning approach reaches unintended levels of vapidness.
I wouldn’t be shocked if Malcolm and Marie became an awards staple, as its polished visuals and vibrant emotionality fall right into voters’ wheelhouse. For me though, the intriguing thematic ideals are bludgeoned by Levinson’s lack of depth and deftness.