What does one say when reviewing a film that spends about half the script criticizing how reviewers approach film? Do I write about Sam Levinson’s brilliant direction or how he is one of the few directors and writers in Hollywood creating roles for people of all shapes, sizes, races, genders and sexualities? Do I focus on Zendaya and John David Washington’s stellar performances, or the element of elevating Black voices?
All of these are methods of reviewing that are criticized by the two characters in Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie, a film that not only gives Oscar-worthy performances from Washington and Zendaya, but proves yet again that Levinson is a god-tier director and writer that is changing the Hollywood landscape.
However, most critics aren’t as immersed in the film’s artistry and compelling story. Most feel it’s an unnecessary full-length feature when it could be a short-film. Some went as far as to call it a meltdown and “inauthentic” (probably a direct dig at Levinson’s character Malcolm), but I think the reviewers are misguided. Levinson’s film has all the charm and poise of a noir film, with all of the edge and bite of today’s filmmaking.
Malcolm & Marie follows the titular characters (Washington and Zendaya) coming home from Malcolm’s first movie premiere. The two engage in an emotionally exhausting conversation about the film’s premise, Marie’s emotional trauma, Malcolm’s arrogance and whether or not they should continue to be partners.
The fight takes place in real time, from when they get home following the premiere and the afterparty to when they go to sleep, skipping forward in time only when they sleep and wake up the next day.
By far the best part of the film is the chemistry between Zendaya and Washington. Zendaya’s portrayal of an even-keeled surface with her inner struggle boiling over just underneath perfectly matches Washington’s loud, faulty sense of confidence that drives their argument into the ground.
The classic filmmaking and modern filmmaking blend throughout every aspect of the film. From being shot entirely in black and white to the dialogue and setting in the present day.
But it’s the music throughout the film that combines both versions effortlessly. Not only the soundtrack, which includes hits like the 1973 “Down and Out in New York City” by James Brown and the 2019 “Selfish” by Little Simz and Cleo Sol, but the score as well. Created by Labrinth, the instrumentation features an array of old-fashioned instruments with modern beats that take the best parts of each for a brilliant arrangement.
Levinson pulls a Ryan Murphy in the sense of hiring people he’s worked with prior, see Labrinth or Zendaya, but they always prove they’re worth Levinson’s backing.
Though some would beg to differ, the film truly has all of the authenticity necessary without the uncomfortability. There are some films that try to be so authentic that they forget they’re a work of fiction with necessary pacing and dialogue embellishments for audience appeal. However, this film manages to capture both voices in a way that is so real and raw without making it boring or indigestible.
With most film reviews, critics try to dive into the deeper meaning behind the dialogue. However, Levinson does a great job of laying out exactly what he wants you to take away from the film every step of the way. Sure, there’s the deeper issue of working on communication with your partner and trying to figure out when enough is enough. But there’s also the surface issues of qualifications and analyzing of film reviewers; the fact that art doesn’t always have to be politically or racially charged when being created by a filmmaker of color; and abuse and addiction impacting relationships. It’s all right there for you to see, understand and think about afterward.
And if you leave this film with anything, it’s the memory of Zendaya’s “Thank you” monologue at the end of the film and the idea that you should always remember to be grateful and appreciate the people who are important to you rather than taking them for granted.
Levinson, Washington, Zendaya, Labrinth and the rest of the minds behind the brilliant Malcolm & Marie created a film that is extremely self-aware and thought-provoking without trying to peddle a deeper message and instead leading the audience to realize that not every piece of work has to be life-changing – as long as it speaks to someone in some way, it’s meaningful.