'Malcolm & Marie': Zendaya, John Washington film uses sex and soliloquy to portray couple's defective dynamic

Directed by Sam Levinson, 'Malcolm & Marie' focuses on its two lead actors and that is Zendaya and John David Washington in the titular roles


                            'Malcolm & Marie': Zendaya, John Washington film uses sex and soliloquy to portray couple's defective dynamic
A still of Zendaya and John David Washington in 'Malcolm & Marie' (Netflix)

Spoilers ahead for 'Malcolm & Marie'

When Zendaya had revealed in an interview that 'Malcolm & Marie' was written by Sam Levinson for her and John David Washington, she was not wrong. The film inspired by Levinson's life, who actually forgot to thank his wife Ashley Levinson during a movie premiere starts on a light note and with every passing moment the movie builds passion and pressure. The opening shot of a car arriving at an isolated home, later followed by Malcolm (John David Washington) and Marie (Zendaya) entering their home hints at the mood of the entire film. Marie is impatient, slightly annoyed as she enters and the first thing she does is walk to the restroom. 

Malcolm, on the other hand, is on a high from his successful premiere. As a director, who just experienced his first successful premiere is happy, humming tunes, pouring a glass of whisky, and dancing to 'Down and Out in New York City' by James Brown. He is clueless about how Marie is annoyed about something and has something running in the back of her head. Despite being annoyed with something that Malcolm did, Marie decides to make him his favorite mac n cheese. It is as she is making it does Malcolm realizes that something is off and that she doesn't seem as ecstatic as he did. 

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He wonders if it was some distasteful comment about her being a model or if it was the lead actor of his film Taylor who had made her uncomfortable. She tries to keep mum and leave the argument for another day but because Malcolm is not ready to let her be on his big night, she ends up voicing one of her frustrations that occurred during the night. Turns out, in his thank-you speech, Malcolm had forgotten to thank her and that has not sat well. He is taken aback because according to him, he had apologized to her right at the premiere and had assumed that she had forgiven and forgotten too. 

Instead, she is clearly holding on to it. She says that she had forgiven him but his colleagues and others at the premiere kept rubbing it in her face and that led to her feeling extremely upset. The fact that Malcolm's film is inspired by her is something she mentions then and also asks him if he intentionally left her out. Of course, she argues that he didn't and in what has to be a dark yet funny moment, Malcolm decides to sit down with a bowl of the mac n cheese that she had prepared for him. He eats, thinks, eats again and when the bowl is half empty he gets a second serving. 

A moment before Marie breaks down remembering another transgression by Malcolm in 'Malcolm & Marie'. (Netflix)

This frustrating feeling that you experience is how you would feel throughout the film because it reflects a dysfunctional, flawed relationship between self-involved complex individuals who forget their privilege often. When Marie comes out, having thought a point or two herself to add to the argument and sees him chomping down on mac n cheese, she is stunned at his audacity and so are we. 

A series of arguments, one leading to another louder, graver transgressions by both of them is what we are in for and the beauty lies in the transition. From one argument to another, Malcolm tries to diffuse the situation and get Marie to lighten up and forgive him by using sex, by showing physical affection and momentarily it works. Momentarily, every time. Just as Malcolm gets ready to make love to her and end his successful night beautifully, there is something that stops Marie, something specific and no, it does not have to do with a simple mention in a thank you speech. 

After a momentary win, a very satisfied Marie waiting for Malcolm to see her point in 'Malcolm & Marie'. (Netflix)

Then there is the music. The brilliant music adds to the couple expressing feelings that they are otherwise unable to in words. From Marie confessing that she will not be able to leave Malcolm despite him possibly ruining her dreams to Malcolm's professing his love to her, all of this is done through songs at different times. Then there are the hurtful comments. Ones that dig a hole in your heart just witnessing it and ones that put a pause to your step because you realize that you have heard it all, in different forms in different homes. It is a clear case of two people in love, unable to let go of each other despite being trapped in a flawed partnership.

Despite the movie being shot in black and white, you can see every shade of the passionate argument between Malcolm and Marie. When he lists all the flawed "broken" women who he was with, who inspired him in creating the lead character Imani, just to prove her claims of being the sole inspiration behind the character wrong to claiming how capable he is of breaking her, it is a grating, harsh portrayal of the extent to which individuals go to hurt one another when they are in love. In return to Malcolm's harsh words, Marie has equally harsh words and calls him a mediocre filmmaker. 

A still of Marie the moment Malcolm starts listing all the women he dated who inspired his film in 'Malcolm & Marie'. (Netflix)

As self-involved as Malcolm is, of everything that Marie told him, it is mediocrity that he fears. After all, the film hints at how he had until now been stuck with making mediocre films. As much as the film is about the two of them hurting each other over the next few hours, it is also about Malcolm's frustration with the world for not understanding his art, at least, his soliloquy about that one "LA Times critic" who kept speaking about his film from a political gaze when it was a universal theme in a huge hint at how much of the film belongs to director Levinson. 

Watching Zendaya portray a varying spectrum of emotions within a short period of time is like going through whiplash. One that you learn to appreciate for the depth. Between Marie reenacting a part of her life in front of Malcolm to prove a point and Malcolm chowing down on a bowl of mac n cheese, there is much to enjoy. If you can move beyond feeling defensive. 

'Malcolm & Marie' can be streamed from February 5 on Netflix.

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