Back from the premiere of his debut film, Malcolm is all gung ho whereas Marie is dead calm. The discussion veers from his film to their relationship in no time and the audience realises that there is a simmering tension between the two. A conversational film that solely relies on the account of the individual, the movie is mostly about perspectives that each of them brings into the relationship while overlooking the other. Soon it becomes an ugly war of words, where both of them begin to shred each other to pieces, while unveiling secrets about each other. When the film ends, both of them are still there yet nobody knows, what stage their relationship has gone to. Has it become better, post the confrontation? Or has it reached the point where reconciliation simply doesn’t stand a chance? Starring John David Washington and Zendaya, ‘Malcolm And Marie’ is the story of two passionate individuals, who are as brittle as their relationship. And while the love is there, the insecurities have also crept into it, adding to their woes. The result is a boiling cauldron of a film that explodes on the monochromatic screen.

The film is mostly about these two characters opening up with their pent-up emotions. While largely it’s he said, she said, it also reveals certain vulnerabilities of a relationship. As the relationship grows, the guards go down and the real person emerges from the carefully crafted facade. At times, this reality may not be the best version of the person involved, yet it’s the truest version. Looking for simple validation, a simple thank-you, the honest confrontation becomes an ugly war of words, where swords get drawn, cutting deep into the skin with every allegation out there. Underappreciated, unseen and unheard by the significant other, makes the relationship crumble. And that’s what director Sam Levinson brings to the plate.

Zendaya and John David Washington play the couple in distress. John is Malcolm, a self-indulgent man, who wants to become better yet his arrogance doesn’t make him see his partner’s contribution in his life. Zendaya is Marie, a woman, so deeply engrossed in her relationship with Malcolm that she has become dysfunctional while neglecting herself. He’s the artist who thrives on her muse’s pain so much that he carves a story about her, yet his pretentiousness doesn’t allow him to credit her for the same. John is a great actor yet it’s Zendaya who stays in your head with her raw and visceral performance as Marie. Two scenes of her remain standout. One, where she’s trembling in a bathtub as Malcolm tears her apart, pointing out that his inspirations may not have come directly from her. And two, at the very end, where Marie opens up about the things that Malcolm should be thankful about, making him choked with emotions. It’s the beginning of a great actor. Mark my words.

A small part of the film is also about the perception of film making, especially by an African-American or a man. Malcolm goes ballistic about his experience with a reviewer, ‘A White Girl From LA Times’ at the beginning of the film that effectively triggers the conversation with Marie. Later in the night, when the same reviewer posts her review about Malcolm’s film, it’s quite evident that Malcolm’s view about her is right as she questions his credibility, his motives while trying to accurately portray the protagonist in his film. One wonders, is it Malcolm or is it Sam Levinson, the director who questions back the credibility of a critic in today’s film making?

‘Malcolm and Marie’ is a landmark film, shot within a month, entirely during the Covid-19 lockdown with a bare minimum crew. It’s a gorgeous yet disturbing film about relationships that needs to be watched by every couple out there. 

‘Malcolm and Marie’ now streaming on Netflix worldwide. Running time of 1 hour and 47 minutes, it’s rated Adult for strong conversations and very brief intimate moments between the actors.

The Cinemawala Rating: 3/5

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