In a time where filmmaking seems impossible, director Sam Levinson can’t resist the urge to keep us entertained. Two stand-alone episodes of his hit TV show Euphoria, riddled with teenage angst and insecurity, aired during the pandemic. Now, Levinson has created a feature film that’s unlike anything we have seen before.
Malcolm and Marie stars Zendaya (Euphoria) as Marie and John David Washington (Tenet, BlackKklansman) as her filmmaker boyfriend Malcolm. Returning from the premiere of Malcolm’s film, the pair look dapper with Malcolm in a smart suit and Marie in a glistening, gold dress (outfits which the actors chose, in fact). As Malcolm dances to James Brown’s Down and Out in New York City with a glass of whisky in hand, Marie makes the angriest bowl of mac ‘n’ cheese you have ever seen. Malcolm’s excitement soon subsides as the notion that something isn’t quite right with Marie is palpable. “You forgot to thank me, Malcolm,” are the words that screw up their entire night.
The pair express their feelings with such a bitter, hateful tone that it seems impossible that they’ll ever find their way back. But, of course, they do. The honesty in their monologues (their really, really long monologues) is almost admirable. However, the lack of a clear narrative makes these rants a little ineffective and, at times, feels repetitive. After every rant, the pair seem to kiss and make up. This spans the entirety of the film.
The soundtrack plays an essential part in the film, and music helps the characters to communicate. It also seems to move the film along, which is useful considering there are only ever two characters in one setting. Malcolm sits back and plays I Forgot to Be Your Lover by William Bell, which does not impress Marie. However, she gets her own back later in the film by blasting Dionne Warwick’s Get Rid of Him. Subtle.
One key element of the movie is an attack on film criticism, which is meta and creates a welcome break from the couple’s heated exchanges, and Malcolm lambasts the first review of his film, written by a woman from the LA Times. Perhaps this reflects Levinson’s own view of film criticism, as it suggests that critics are wrong for inferring messages within films. After all, the film could be seen as semi-autobiographical given that Levinson forgot to thank his wife at a premiere. Maybe Malcolm is a device to get a few things off his chest.
Aside from the dialogue-heavy plot, Levinson has undoubtedly made a beautiful film. Shooting on 35mm in black and white creates a classic feel that can even make a bowl of mac ‘n’ cheese look aesthetically pleasing.
Malcolm and Marie has become one of the first Hollywood film to be written and produced during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was quite the rush. From conception to release via Netflix took just under a year and Levinson has proved that lockdown filmmaking is possible. With that in mind, the end result is impressive. Nevertheless, Levinson could have done something more interesting with the narrative.
With the whole film taking place in a house and the occasional scene outside, it’s relatable to a current audience, Hollywood glam aside. But the whisky, mac ‘n’ cheese and having a little dance doesn’t seem too far off, right?
By Liz Campbell
Malcolm and Marie is available to watch via Netflix.