‘Malcolm and Marie’ has nice aesthetic; plot is painfully repetitive

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Before I start, let me just say up front: I was excited for this movie. Like really excited. It looked right up my alley. A nuanced story with two powerhouse actors, beautiful cinematography, some smooth jazz and a black and white filter; I thought this movie would be a slam dunk. Just from the clips I had seen, it seemed like it was going to be one of my favorite films of the year. I mean, come on! It’s Zendaya and John David Washington! There’s no way they could mess this up…..right?

But to my dismay, they did mess it up. And they did it in a very dramatic fashion.

The film is about Malcolm (John David Washington), an African-American filmmaker, and his film that is based loosely off of Marie (Zendaya), his girlfriend. Taking place entirely in one night after a screening of the film, the two are pushed towards an emotional reckoning that threatens their relationship.

If you watch the first twenty minutes of ‘Malcolm and Marie,’ you’ve watched the entire film. All you need to know is that the two characters have angry, random outbursts at each other for an hour and 45 minutes. The script tries to vary the arguments by starting each with a different trigger and then circling back to the root of the problem, but the basic formula is pretty easy to spot.

First, Malcolm or Marie has a very long, drawn out monologue while whining about whatever problem they’re bickering over. The other responds by butting in and then proceeding to do another very long monologue about their differing perspective. The two angrily leave to separate rooms and then reconvene to either be angry with each other some more or reconcile. That’s it.

I should point out that I’m not saying that these monologues are not impactful. They certainly are, especially when delivered by Zendaya and Washington, who absolutely carry this film. They both deliver stunning performances and there are points when I genuinely feel for them and their dysfunctional relationship. But the problem is that the entire film is the two ripping at each other at such a high intensity for the length of the movie. It doesn’t make for a compelling story, it’s simply boring. Even though the monologues are beautifully written, watching twenty minutes of John David Washington pacing around his kitchen while ranting about Marie’s unsupportiveness can only be interesting for so long.

The themes of the movie also feel very odd, especially coming from the screenwriter, Sam Levinson. Malcolm and Marie is a story about a dysfunctional relationship, but it also comments on racial disparities in the media and the way in which critics discuss films. While there certainly is a great deal of thought-provoking commentary in the script, it also feels weird that Levinson’s own experience with film critics parallels Malcolm’s.

He, in fact, was given a less than positive review on one of his other films, “Assassination Nation,” from a writer from the LA Times, the same paper that reviews Malcolm’s film in the movie. Although it could be a simple coincidence, it feels as though Levinson is trying to convey his own frustrations with film critics through the Malcolm’s frustrations. It certainly isn’t the worst part of the film, but it does feel a little out of place.

I should reiterate how amazing Zendaya and John David Washington were in this movie. I touched on this earlier, but they carried this film on their backs. With Washington, his portrayal of Malcolm is so captivating and interesting to watch that I found myself sometimes laughing along with Marie at his exuberant personality.

As for Zendaya, her portrayal of Marie is a very interesting shift from some of her typical roles which consist of more teenager characters. I’m sure every film review about “Malcolm and Marie” circulating around the internet praises the direction that Zendaya is taking her career so I apologize if this is the hundredth time you’ve heard it, but it is true. If there’s one thing I can say about this film, it’s that it’s gotten me excited about the future of Zendaya’s (and John David Washington’s) career.

It should also be worth noting that the film is gorgeous. Honestly, it is just so pleasing to look at the set and cinematography coupled with the black and white filter; it looks really good.

But regardless, we have finally come to the question you’ve all been waiting for: is it worth a watch? It’s…complicated. As much as I want to say it’s not, something is stopping me. Despite the uninteresting plot and the oddly placed themes, it just feels wrong to turn you away. I’d say if you feel like watching a film that is more about the aesthetic and acting more than the plot, then take a crack at this one. I just can’t promise that you’ll enjoy it.

Grade: C+