Netflix Romance Drama ‘Malcolm & Marie’ is a Powerful Piece of Cinema

Julien Neaves, Editor

Plot: A black filmmaker and his young girlfriend return home after a successful film premiere and spend hours exploring their relationship.

Review: What if I asked you to watch a modern black and white film and about two people in a house talking all night and into the morning? Doesn’t exactly sound the recipe for an entertaining film, right? And if you are being honest (and feel free to do so) you might say that set-up sounds just plain boring.

And while that may be the bare bones of the new Netflix romance drama Malcom & Marie, the film is so much more.

The film stars John David Washington and Zendaya as the titular characters and both actors pour their hearts and souls into these performances. It is intimate, brutal, authentic (a word that comes up a lot in the movie) and quite an emotional deep tissue massage. Now Washington, son of screen legend Denzel Washington, has been on my radar since he led Spike Lee’s fun but historically inaccurate BlacKkKlansman, and he has received more mainstream notice as a leading man following his turn in Christopher Nolan’s mind assault Tenet, but here he displays his depths as a dramatic actor like I have never seen before.

But even more of a revelation is Zendaya. The 24-year-old may still have the faded stamp of her time as a Disney sitcom actress, which received more of a weathering with her turn as MJ in the Tom Holland Spider-Man films, but any doubts about her abilities as a serious actor should be silenced following this mature, incisive and raw performance. She and Johnson (who were among the film’s producers) not only carry the movie; they elevate it, from slicing dialogue, to fiery monologues to riveting reactions. And I am sure people may be concerned about the 12-year age gap between the two, but it is explained within the story and I had no issue with it.

And the core of the story is their turbulent relationship which has weathered the storms of her demons and his personality issues. Their loving and fighting and hurting and healing feels like a microcosm of an entire relationship, and while it is a bit emotionally exhausting at times it is ultimately rewarding. But beyond the relationship dynamic there are also sojourns into the issues of gender politics, race, the nature of art and inspiration, the world of acting and filmmaking, and even a critique on film criticism. I wonder if I should feel targeted. Nah.

I am not familiar with the work of director Sam Levinson but it felt like he used a light touch here which worked for the natural tone of the film. I must give praise to cinematographer Marcell Rév for some wonderful use of light, perspective and framing that created several gorgeous tableaux. And the soul, jazz and R&B soundtrack, which both set the tone and is used as plot points at certain times, was also very well done.

Early reviews have been somewhat mixed but I found Malcolm & Marie to be a powerful film with two award-worthy performances. It may be a bit too “artsy” for some, or even pretentious to others, but I believe it a well-made romance drama that should be on every cinephile’s must-watch list.

Editor Jules’s Score: 8.5 out of 10

For Featured Writer Alice’s review of the drama Pieces of a Woman you can click here.

B0FC059B-BBEE-47CF-90E4-D588C1BACD93 Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. I can also be found posting about TV and movie memes, news and trailers on Facebook at Movieville.