‘Malcolm & Marie’ takes work to watch

By Casey Daly, staff wrtier

There are two characters in Sam Levinson’s “Malcolm & Marie.” There is a disgruntled Marie (Zendaya), with a sparkly dress and a complicated past. Then there is her boyfriend Malcolm (John David Washington), a hot-headed “creative” on the precipice of making it big as a filmmaker. The couple faces their issues in one endlessly furious and emotional night.  “Malcolm & Marie” is tiresomely turbulent—and the film has been criticized for being emotionally rocky and without much substance. More on that later.

Though the film’s production began during quarantine, there are many well-cooked shots in the film. There was the gorgeous, mid-century-inspired modern home in which the entirety of the movie takes place. Large glass windows created luminous and grand nighttime shots, and many pillars and doorframes were utilized well. There were the gorgeous cabinets and a bathtub, California grass waved in the wind above the bedroom windows. The use of space was used appropriately in this film—essential in such an otherwise stagnant film. The film is unique in itself, from the lack of color and the artistic use of household objects like Kraft Mac & Cheese and nail scissors.

I couldn’t help but notice the exhausting similarities between Zendaya’s character and Rue from “Euphoria,” also created by Levinson. In both pieces, Zendaya plays a rigid, complicated (recovering) addict, and there is not much distinction between Marie and a slightly older version of Rue. Washington, as Malcolm, does an excellent job of being angry. Levinson seems to use the characters as pawns to relay some of his op-ed opinions. The couple ends up arguing more about the purpose of the film than it does the haunting problems of their fragile relationship. What won’t leave my mind is a critique from The Atlantic in which Shirley Li describes the characters as “two sentient think pieces.” Perhaps there was something thoughtful and provocative about analyzing film within film analysis within the film. But like every other element of this film, it was taken too far.

The laborious “Malcolm & Marie” is an uneasy merry-go-round that will riddle anyone who has experienced a relationship with motion sickness. I assume that part of the roller coaster’s participants can render an immense appreciation for drama and bleeding-heart expression onscreen. The ups and downs were just that—ups and downs. The predictability within the film’s unpredictability was painful. When it’s good, it will be bad shortly. And when it’s bad, it will be good soon. Monologues deliver as moralizing and repetitive.

Ultimately, I would rate “Malcolm & Marie” slightly higher than film critics’ consensus. I assume a campiness or a valiancy that did not quite deliver, but I believe in its intent. Cutting the movie by 40 minutes would have improved it much. I would recommend this movie to anyone open to emotional labor.