'Malcolm & Marie' is trying so desperately to be something it's not


Rating: 5.9/10

Malcolm & Marie is kind of like Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. The two go well together; both macaroni and cheese, and John David Washington and Zendaya. The only issue is that the ingredients are simply too low quality to satisfy your palette. The cheese is just powder, the script is just annoying, the milk is great, the house is gorgeous, and your expectations are just too high for something that you can have any time you want.

The worldwide release of Euphoria showrunner Sam Levinson's new Netflix original film, Malcolm & Marie, launched a divisive discourse of both shredding criticisms and lukewarm reviews. I, for one, enjoyed parts of the movie while having a gross distaste for others, but am well aware of the fact that I'll never return to this film for a rewatch for several reasons.

The overwhelming majority is tearing the movie apart. The most notable and popular criticism is the derailment of the film's inherent bias against critics themselves, which is the central theme of the first 20-minutes. There's also the unavoidable fact that this movie features several monologues detailing the Black experience, although the movie was written and directed by a white man, who just so happens to be the son of Barry Levinson—an acclaimed director from the 20th century. There simply isn't enough space in the limited amount of praise that this movie deserves to direct any of it towards Levinson. All of those criticisms are apt and properly bestowed on a movie that is, simply, trying way too fucking hard to be something it isn't.

Malcolm & Marie wants to be held in the same light as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) so badly that it's filmed in black and white, features a toxic couple arguing for nearly two hours, and yet it falls so far short of that standard that it's insulting to mention the two works in the same article. The writing just simply isn't good enough. Levinson aches to be perceived as an "auteur," "genius," or "revolutionary," so he forces word vomit down your throat without any applicable-to-real-life messages. This is partly because this is a personal film for him—drawing from real-life experiences following the release of Assassination Nation—but for this script to be so void of something graspable and meaningful is brutal. If he had just dumbed it down a notch or two, and instead focused on showing rather than yell-telling, it could've been much more successful.

Much like Who's Afraid?, this movie would've benefitted greatly from one extra couple to spice up the storyline. Who's Afraid? utilizes two college students to propel the older couple's argument to another level by enticing the viewer to believe that there might be something going on beneath the surface between the two couples. With Malcolm & Marie, we know from the get-go that this movie's going to feature these two characters alone.

There isn't anywhere else to go, there aren't any other characters to latch onto, and it's simply claustrophobic. And it's not the good kind of claustrophobic like a Safdie brothers movie. No, this is the bad kind of claustrophobic, like driving to Denver with your buddy and his girlfriend, but they fight during the entire drive over the littlest things like what Spotify playlist to listen to, or what exit to take, or why he's liking other girls photos on Instagram. You can either jump out of the car and suffer a taxing bruise or two, or you can wait until you get to Denver and take a deep, relieving breath knowing that you won't have to suffer in that special kind of hell for another 72 hours.