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Monday, March 08, 2021
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‘Malcolm and Marie’ delivers as one of Netflix’s best original films in years

“This is not a love story. This is a story about love.”

“Malcolm and Marie” is a romantic drama focusing on the titular couple Malcolm, played by John David Washington, and Marie, played by Zendaya.
“Malcolm and Marie” is a romantic drama focusing on the titular couple Malcolm, played by John David Washington, and Marie, played by Zendaya.

Movie: Malcolm and Marie

Director: Sam Levinson

Starring: Zendaya, John David Washington

Studio: Little Lamb Production

Rating: 8.4/10

Netflix has saturated its platform with thousands of hours of original content over the past few years, with programming becoming more bold as time progresses. But sometimes, all we really need is something minimal.

Without going too deep into spoiler territory, “Malcolm and Marie” is a romantic drama focusing on the titular couple made up of film director Malcolm, played by John David Washington, and former addict Marie, played by Zendaya, and the growing tension between them as they wait for the incoming reviews following the premiere of Malcolm’s newest film.

Teased by the trailer as “not a love story” but a “story about love,” the audience watches as Director Sam Levinson, who also directed the HBO hit series “Euphoria,” meticulously unravels the couple’s relationship in the film’s 106-minute runtime.

Delving deep into relationship psychology, the couple learns more about each other in one night than they had over their entire relationship, showcasing the synonymous positive and negative factors that maintain in a chaotic (but still loving) relationship.

By the films end, the couple is left in the same spot  as they were at the start, perfectly displayed through the happy, angry and sad conversations that are scattered throughout the film.

Levinson’s risky decision to restrict the film to a two-person cast confined in one house was more than worth the effort, effectively minimizing the scale to create a more personal story.

The cinematography of the film is top tier, featuring a variety of shots, including many closeups, that allows the audience to feel the uncomfortable tension between Malcolm and Marie and brings the sense of immersion to an all-time high.

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Opting to use a black and white filter, these lenses strip the film of colors and distractions, giving a raw and straightforward look into the complex couple’s relationship.

With few exceptions, the film follows a strictly diegetic soundtrack — there is little music to be found in between their fights and conversations — making the movie feel more sincere and real. This also ramps up the film’s intensity, giving us little to distract ourselves from the relationship deteriorating rapidly right before our eyes.

The soundtrack itself is excellent, perfectly reflecting the film’s mood through contemporary jazz and blues, creating a lightly somber tone.

But the true gem of “Malcolm and Marie” comes in the form of leads Zendaya and John David Washington.

Washington, best known for his leading role as Ron Stallworth in“BlacKkKlansman,” delivers a performance eschewing Stallworth’s character’s calm and quiet nature for the mix of explosive anger, genuine love and self-obsession Malcolm expresses, creating a toxic tornado that can change moods on a whim.

Zendaya stays true to her rebellious acting style, showing a traumatized character who is just as much a pot-stirrer as she is an emotional wreck. But despite the great chemistry between the cast, Zendaya’s Marie still feels a tad generic, acting quite similarly to her role in Euphoria, signifying she may need to branch out for future film choices. 

Despite Zendaya’s uninspired performance, the actors still persevere, creating raw emotional performances that are backed by the film’s excellent script.

Feeling more like a case study than a tale of love, “Malcolm and Marie” is one of the best “romantic” films in years, providing a breath of fresh air to the genre and a perfect way to start off the year in cinema.

Alex Falter is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at alex.falter@ubspectrum.com.

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