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Review: ‘Malcolm & Marie’ is no euphoria

By Gustavo Castillo, Feb. 16, 2021

A relationship built upon lies, insecurity, miscommunication and lack of respect is seemingly no relationship at all; however, “Malcolm & Marie” is living proof that these relationships exist. Gearing away from the typical movies about trial and tribulation, the dramatic film illustrates romantic relationships in an unusual way — a realistic way — that begs the question, “Is this love?”

The simple answer is no.

This is not a love story nor a movie for those who cannot sit through injustice. The film is hard to watch because for viewers that immerse themselves into the actors’ shoes, “Malcolm & Marie” is a pain to watch as it is tempting to throw the shoes off.

Directed by Sam Levinson, famously known for his HBO smash hit series, “Euphoria,” the film follows the brutal themes of drugs, trauma and relationships. Recasting “Euphoria” actress, Zendaya made a reappearance to play Marie, along with co-star John David Washington playing Malcolm.

Within the first 15 minutes of the film, there is an estrangement escalating from the couple. Malcolm, a filmmaker who recently returns home after his breakthrough film, is enjoying a drink and joyously dancing around the house to soul music. Marie, on the other hand, is wearing an elegant sequin dress while smoking a cigarette — stressed and indifferent. Although bothered, she goes to the kitchen to prepare Malcolm’s mac-and-cheese.

When Marie fakes a smile, Malcolm calls her out on it and the argument continues throughout the rest of the film. Though it seems as if Marie is causing the problem by being unsupportive of her newly successful partner, she makes it clear that she does not want to further escalate the problem for “she knows him.” He constantly pleads for her to admit why she is upset and every time she does, she is shut down, belittled and verbally abused by Malcolm. The cat-and-mouse game of the couple’s emotional instability begins.

Despite the upsetting storyline, the cast successfully emulates the realism of emotionally-driven quarrels between intimate partners; however, the lack of character development makes the film feel bland.

Throughout the movie, Malcolm continues to show aggression toward Marie while bringing up topics about her past drug addiction, suicide attempt, rehabilitation, relapse and cheating. Revisiting multiple sensitive subjects regarding a partner’s past should not be used as a weapon when anyone is mad but remains Malcolm’s ultimate scapegoat.

Malcolm is easily the most loathsome character solely because he portrays himself to be self-absorbed and egoistic. There is no redemption for his character throughout the film.

The never-ending arguments that continue throughout the movie are unbearable to watch because Marieargues valid points toward Malcolm, while Malcolm is standoffish and unopen to criticism, tearing Marie down. And he follows each argument with “I love you.” This manipulating tactic reflects the toxicity found in some modern-day relationships.

Although the disputes could have been avoided if the characters realized their self-worth, since they are both broken inside, the viewers almost feel like the third wheel being stuck in an inescapable loop watching two friends constantly fighting, which makes the film exhausting.

The tone of the film is intensified by its unique choice of cinematography being filmed in black and white. The lack of colors on the extravagant dress Marie is wearing or their immaculate house show the director’s intention to strip away all the distractions of color and fantasy and focus on the emotions.

The lack of color, although an old signature of earlier films, is both riveting and never accomplished in this monochromatic hue. By bringing an old technique into a 2021 film, the director’s clever twist shows the development of films and how returning to old roots can redefine the movie altogether.

Despite the effort, “Malcolm & Marie” failed to be as thought-provoking as the director intended, especially because the purpose of the film is hard to grasp until the very end — and if not, the second time around.

There is no clear message for what the director is trying to say but rather feels like an observational movie. There is no lesson learned and the viewers are left in frustration.

“Malcolm & Marie” is now streaming on Netflix.

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