Malcolm & Marie
UK Release: 05/02/2021
Directed by: Sam Levinson
Starring: John David Washington, Zendaya
It’s no secret that Malcolm & Marie has pissed off many critics.
And it’s easy to see why.
The opening few minutes see filmmaker Malcolm (played by John David Washington) unfurl a tirade of abuse against a white female critic, poking fun at her misunderstanding his latest film.
Many real-world critics seem to feel that director Sam Levinson aimed a canon directly at them and lit the fuse.
But it’s a lot more subtle than that.
Malcolm & Marie peels back the performative layers of the film industry to reveal the human drama beneath. At the heart of it, this film is about the eponymous couple and how they treat each other. It just happens to have a lot to say about Hollywood, too.
Malcom is an interesting beast. Contradicting himself constantly, it’s clear that Malcom has become the thing he hates. He’s part of the Hollywood machine whether he likes it or not, and his relationship with Marie provides an interesting counterpoint.
She goes in almost the other direction.
Marie (played by Zendaya) strives for authenticity and pokes fun at Malcom’s pretentiousness. At the same time, it’s clear she’s turned herself into everything he wants her to be – a glamours Hollywood girlfriend befitting an auteur.
But as the film goes on, the façade begins to fall down.
Zendaya literally lays herself bare, stripping away the ball gown and fancy makeup to reveal the real person behind it all.
Things are not as they seem, and as the pretences fall away, we get to the real lives behind the Hollywood veneer.
In many ways, these reveals pierce the very nature of Hollywood itself.
And as our conceptions about Malcom & Marie change over the course of the film, it becomes clear that the filmmakers have a lot to say about Hollywood.
Malcolm & Marie doesn’t just take aim at film critics. It deconstructs actors, filmmakers, the entire Hollywood system and shows it for what it really is.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all bad.
There are lots of lessons to be learned here, largely about the nature of the film industry. But the big takeaway for me, is that there are real people behind the camera, on screen and even writing about those movies.
And this means things are far more complex than we like to think.
Just as the white female critic is a tad reductive when it comes to Malcolm’s film, he too is reductive of her analysis of his art. Does it really matter about the intention behind the film in the grand scheme of things? Or is Malcolm falling into a trap of buying into his own ego?
Almost baiting real-world critics, the film was shot in black and white 35mm, and has a beautifully grainy quality as a result. Had it not been for the anti-critic rants, you would almost think it was made to win them over.
At the heart of it, Malcolm & Marie has a lot to say about how a film is made versus how it’s perceived.
And while it doesn’t offer much in the way of answers, the relationship thrust under a microscope provides an incredible counterpoint to feel the consequences of living up to your own ego.
Malcolm & Marie comes to Netflix on 5 February 2021.