REVIEW: Movies that make you feel like a fly on the wall are fascinating because we are inherently voyeuristic. Seeing people at their uninhibited and vulnerable best offers a stark, unfiltered view of their lives and thoughts. Director Sam Levinson tries to use this human psyche to his advantage. His story has no beginning and no end. You catch it halfway through as you watch a feuding couple – a filmmaker and his girlfriend, facing each other one night. Filmed cinematic in black and white and completely set in one place (the house) … everything looks very classic Hollywood. However, once you dig, the conflict that drives the narrative isn’t compelling enough for you to dedicate yourself.
She calls his work ‘mediocre’ and he teases her by recalling his phase of drug addiction and his mental imbalance. Even when things get ugly between the two, the film oscillates between fleeting moments of lust and comfort and then returns to cruel verbal arguments. The teasing is not limited to their personal lives, relationships, and behavior, but to film and its social impact, the politics of race, the male versus female gaze, film criticism, awakening culture, and more.
Marie believes that her life is the source material for Malcolm’s film, so recognition was essential. You can’t borrow someone’s life and pretend it’s not just theirs. As the night progresses, you realize that his problem is not just the movie, but his ability to take it for granted in life, in general. Some lines are painfully real and strike a chord, especially those that mean the difference between how men and women perceive relationships. Men think that they are not confrontational, but they have the ability to do more harm with their indifference. Women may seem vocal, but they internalize pain much more. If Levinson had stayed true to the gender dynamic, the friction between love and hate and boundaries in love, Malcolm & Marie would have been much more attractive.
The long-winded film loses steam in the first 15 minutes when the couple’s film-related arguments seem manipulative and lack authenticity. They give the impression that Levinson has anticipated the criticism of this film and has written dialogue beforehand defending his own cinema. “Films don’t need to have a message, what is the problem of authenticity, what do the critics know, and so on. Every dialogue Malcolm says feels like a justification for the very existence of this movie.
Ironically, Zendaya’s Marie struts in a braless ganji and boxer shorts, while talking about men sexualizing women in movies. She denounces Malcolm’s selfish behavior, but her arguments continue to ramble and everything loses steam. After a moment, the unnecessary noise and drama gets so amplified that you don’t want the two of you gravitating toward each other again. Both do not leave a single stone unturned to take revenge, spitting out the most hurtful things. Zendaya, perhaps in her most mature role to date, is moderately effective, if not spectacular. John David Washington doesn’t make you feel anything.
Love is not a bed of roses and arguments are inevitable, we understand that. But does this never-ending dispute deserve an audience or does it have universal appeal? Not really. The conversation lacks authenticity and feels orchestrated. The film is so slow that the hours seem like days and the couple’s arguments are momentarily separated by monotonous sessions of pissing, bathing and smoking. The film lacks the seriousness necessary to turn a spiel into a meaningful conversation about disagreements.