Malcolm & Marie Review: Zendaya and John David Washington Can Act-Act

Sam Levinson teams up with Zendaya and John David Washington for an achingly romantic drama in which a filmmaker  (Washington) and his girlfriend (Zendaya) return home following a celebratory movie premiere as he awaits what’s sure to be imminent critical and financial success.  The evening suddenly takes a turn as revelations about their relationships begin to surface, testing the strength of their love.  Working with cinematographer Marcell Rev, Levinson creates a film of rare originality; an ode to the great Hollywood romances as well as a heartfelt expression of faith in the medium’s future.

Malcolm & Marie Trailer:

The Good:

Right off the bat, you can tell that Malcolm & Marie is just aesthetically beautiful. I loved the cinematography here because it really gives a voyeuristic perspective for viewers.  One scene that comes to mind is when the couple initially enters the house and the camera view from the outside peering in. The use of the handheld camera, long takes, and smooth edits were done wonderfully. Plus, the choice to make this black and white almost made this feel like a different experience. It added to the sense of sincerity and drama.

MALCOLM & MARIE (L-R): ZENDAYA as MARIE, JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON as MALCOLM. NETFLIX © 2021
The absolute best thing about Malcolm & Marie are the outstanding performances from the lead stars. Zendaya completely owns her role as Marie as she effortlessly  dives deeper into character. Her performance made me feel more empathetic the darker her character’s story became. Her knife scene was easily her best moment given how layered that moment was for the film. I think what also stood out in her performance is how much she was able to act and compliment her costar in the scenes that didn’t even include dialogue. Dare I say that you could probably watch this film on mute, and still get a pretty good sense of the pain and emotion that she was going through.
MALCOLM & MARIE (L-R): ZENDAYA as MARIE, JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON as MALCOLM. DOMINIC MILLER/NETFLIX © 2021
Alongside Zendaya, John David Washington was exceptional in his role. This may be one of his strongest performances to date given the amount of range he displayed in Malcolm & Marie. I admired how he was able to go from loving to apologetic to angered in addition to a other various emotions. Washington captured the variety of positive and toxic traits of his character to the point where it’s hard to really root for or against him. I almost thought he lost his mind when he was outside throwing his tantrum. Either way, the delivery by Washington was exceptional.

The Bad:

One of the weaker elements to Malcolm & Marie is ironically one of the topics of discussion within the movie; authenticity. More specifically, it’s the writing that’s the issue. The characters in the film do take some really insightful jabs at one another, but the problem is that it comes off as unrealistic. It’s one thing to depict drama within a toxic relationship. It’s another to compromise all of that for the sake of deep psychoanalysis.  Unless these two characters were actually psychologists, average people don’t argue to this degree. The energy of a heated argument was captured nicely. However, due to the overly technical discourse, you begin to hear more of the writer of the film and less of the characters.  As a result, the characters become more and more unrelatable. The intention of wanting the audience to learn more about the characters was accomplished, but it still felt a bit unnatural.
MALCOLM & MARIE (L-R): JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON as MALCOLM, ZENDAYA as MARIE. DOMINIC MILLER/NETFLIX © 2021.
I think another reason the dialogue felt off was due to the general flow of it. It is natural for an argument to have its ups and downs for sure. Yet, after the second or third flare up in the film, the whole interaction began to feel staged. There have to be more creative transitions between the arguments to make them more believable. Otherwise, most of the time it just felt like a series of scripted, well-acted monologues rather than a couple having a fight. Every time the couple would jump start into an argument again, I would snap out of the feeling of watching a real couple argue, and be reminded that I am watching an actual movie.

The Verdict:

Malcolm & Marie is a fantastic display of the amazing acting talents of Zendaya and John David Washington. Their performances are the biggest draw here. Their on screen chemistry was impeccable. I think the film tries to be a character study, but felt too scripted to be as genuine as it probably intended. I don’t regret watching this, but I can see how this film will be rather divisive for some. I think that some people will enjoy watching the basic toxicity emitted by both the characters, and that will be just fine for those viewers. Others may get turned off by the small setting, odd structure in dialogue, and other technical issues. Either way, the way I’d recommend this film is to watch the trailer. If that entices you to watch, then watch the first 15 minutes of the movie. If you’re fine with the couple arguing, getting meaner, making up, and repeating that same format multiple times, then Malcolm and Marie is the movie for you.
Director: Sam Levinson
Writer: Sam Levinson
Stars: Zendaya, John David Washington
Malcolm & Marie is now available on Netflix.  Be sure to follow
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Overall
6.5/10
6.5/10
  • Acting - 9/10
    9/10
  • Cinematography - 8/10
    8/10
  • Plot/Screenplay - 6/10
    6/10
  • Setting/Theme - 6/10
    6/10
  • Buyability - 6/10
    6/10
  • Recyclability - 4/10
    4/10
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About Emmanuel "E-Man" Noisette

Emmanuel is a Chicago film critic who founded Eman's Movie Reviews. He freelances as a writer and video content creator for sites such as MovieTickets.com. Be sure to join the other 33K+ fans on his Facebook Fan Page for even more movie opinions and fun. Feel free to contact him with any professional inquiries: [email protected]

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