Thursday, May 30, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Malcolm & Marie’ is a Masterclass in Character Study and Escalating Conflict


Director: Sam Levinson
Writers: ISam Levinson
Stars: Zendaya, John David Washington

Synopsis: A director and his girlfriend’s relationship is tested after they return home from his movie premiere and await critics’ responses.

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How do you begin to review a film that is focused on the notion of having a leading character, Malcolm, having a negative impression on film critics? How would he view the words that I am writing right now, judging the film and giving it an arbitrary grade that may influence the way that people view Sam Levinson’s work? Well, despite Malcolm’s dismay when he reads the L.A. Times review of his film which calls it a “genuine masterwork”, I am willing to do the same here for Levinson’s direction of this beautiful story.

This is a film that allows itself to be vulnerable in every choice that it makes. Levinson’s script is 105 minutes of heavy dialogue between our two leading characters, Malcolm and Marie, with no flashbacks or supporting characters necessary to tell this story. Everything that the audience needs to know about the relationship between Malcolm and Marie, both with their past and current situation, is told naturally through their dialogue and numerous monologues that they both bounce off each other.

The idea for the script from Levinson came from a small thought of what a person would feel like if their partner didn’t thank them at a big premiere or award show. Whilst this is a small and insignificant thing to obsess over, the film manages to escalate that small conflict in a way that is completely believable. Every time you believe they have sorted out the situation, one of them will bring up another factor and their arguments become more compelling on both sides. This is not a film that favours a particular person or belief, as both Malcolm and Marie are given their individual monologues and moments to shine and have their side heard.

The only reason this dialogue is able to work as well as it does is down to the two performances by John David Washington and Zendaya. Zendaya is the one that has been getting the most attention from social media, and she is a powerhouse in this film. Not only is she given a very difficult role to play here from her fellow Euphoria writer and creator Levinson, but there are individual scenes – including one that I will simply say she is ‘acting’ – which just completely blew me away. However, I will also advise people not to dismiss or forget about John David Washington, who is able to go toe-to-toe with Zendaya’s performance. This is easily one of the strongest pairs of performances I have seen this year as they both give the performances of their careers.

It is not only the script and the isolated performances that allows this film to be vulnerable. This is set in a rented-out apartment far away from any bustling streets or other properties, completely isolated. There are no distractions as our leading characters traverse through every room of the apartment, inside and out. The open-plan layout allows for the two characters to move around freely, and yet have nowhere to hide away when the conflict heats up. It also allows for some stunning cinematography as there is plenty of room to move around, panning from one character to the other. The cinematography is highlighted by the choice to release this in black-and-white, a choice that is extremely effective in focusing on the dialogue and narrative rather than allowing ourselves to be distracted by what colour Zendaya’s dress is, as an example.

This is a film that deserves praise in itself for the impact it had in the film industry during the pandemic. Being shot at the peak of the pandemic, not only being made safely but giving several people in the film industry a job and a pay-check during these times, there will be many that want to support this project just for that alone. I am glad to report that this was a major success for Levinson and his team, as he has created what I will already say is one of the best films of 2021. Don’t wait to press play on this when it drops on Netflix on February 5th.

Grade: A+

Amy Smith
Amy Smith
Amy joined the InSession Film team in September 2020. Growing up in the north of Scotland, she has been balancing her passion with writing with studying English and Film at University alongside a part-time job. Alongside InSession Film, Amy writes for other publications, including her self-published website Film For Thought. She is also the Arts Editor with a focus on film and cinema for her University’s newspaper and assists in writing for other sections. You can follow her on Twitter @filmswithamy.

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