MALCOLM & MARIE (directed by Sam Levinson, 106 minutes, USA, 2021)
BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Malcolm & Marie is Sam Levinson’s follow-up to 2018’s Assassination Nation, which was a film that I think was a bit too smart for its marketed target demographic. I say that because copies of film that perfectly weaponized the metaphor of the social media witch hunt are always plentiful at my local used movie store. Assassination Nation was a film that stuck in my craw long after the press screening, and the more I thought about it, the more I found to appreciate in its densely nuanced tale of a group of girls at the center of a small town plagued by cell phone leaks, where thanks to the contents of these leaks we discover no one is as just as they pretend to be. With that in mind I sat down to watch the directors’ latest that just hit Netflix – Malcolm & Marie.
Malcolm & Marie takes place the night after the world premier of a film the titular’s Malcom (John David Washington) wrote and directed about a woman struggling with addiction, based on the life of his live-in girlfriend, the titular Marie (Zendaya). The film shot during COVID lockdown is a claustrophobic glimpse into an abusive relationship taking place in the wee hours of the night after the premier as Malcom – your stereotypical asshole filmmaker with a god complex, riding high on his big night, emotionally eviscerates his significant other in their beautiful home to a swinging jazz score. Where the film gets into even more troubling territory is the fact that much is made of Malcolm being a black filmmaker in Hollywood, surrounded by, according to him, sycophantic white critics all looking to leverage politically correctness for social justice clout. Given the film was both written and directed by a white man, to call some of these racially charged conversations/statements/jokes problematic is way too kind.
The film is both excruciating and exhausting to sit through. Malcolm & Marie makes Marriage Story feel like a Brady Bunch episode, as the couple spends the entire one hour and forty two minute run time at each other’s throats, over and over again attempting to up the ante each go round. It’s terrible as it is, but it’s how the film traffics in racial stereotypes and tropes as a white filmmaker attempts to dissect racism in Hollywood that throws this cringe-worthy masterpiece into Green Book level cinematic black face. I mean at one point Malcolm jokes his take on a Lego movie would be called “Forty Bricks and a Mule”. This all happens while Malcolm and Zendaya — who is wearing little more than underwear for most of the film — attempt some hyper-meta dialog heavy cinematic deconstruction of race, politics and the male gaze in order to give the filmmaker a sort of plausible deniability to any or all off these call-outs by future reviewers. It’s almost as if by giving the film a solid two thumbs down review — which I do very enthusiastically — I’m somehow fulfilling prophecy. So be it. This sucks.