Monday, February 8, 2021

Review: "Malcolm & Marie" is a modern day "Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Or at least, it tries to be.

There's a new movie on Netflix that I have been trying to wrap my head around all day. It's called "Malcolm & Marie" and features Zendaya and John David Washington. They are literally the only characters in the entire movie. Washington plays Malcolm, a filmmaker who had a premiere night. Zendaya plays his girlfriend Marie, an actress. Malcolm comes home concerned about his movie, how critics will take it, how he's been reduced to a stereotype in the press, he's concerned about his image. All the while he didn't thank his girlfriend in his speech before the film premiered and she feels that the movie heavily borrows from her and their personal life. This leads to an entire night of diving into their relationship, and all of their wants, needs, desires and disappointments come flooding out of each of them.

In style and tone, the film really reminds me of "Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" A movie which is one of my all-time favorites. You may remember reading it on my Top 1000 Movies List in the summer. "Malcolm & Marie" feels like a stage play, as it takes place pretty much all in one take and never leaves its one location. Both films are shot in very surreal black and white. Both films with couples letting out their secrets and inner thoughts over the course of a very long night. These two films would make for a very interesting double feature. One of them is a masterpiece in my eyes. The other, I am not exactly sure what to call it. 

It's clear that John David Washington and Zendaya are both very talented performers. And you can bet that they throw themselves at these roles. John David Washington is on the fast track to becoming just as prolific as his father. I've been spending the last few years trying to figure out what I think of Zendaya as an actress. She's fine in the "Spider-Man" movies. She was fine in "The Greatest Showman" and I haven't had the pleasure of watching any of "Euphoria" yet. But I can say with honesty that I think she's leveled up quite a bit with her performance here. She's overwhelmingly powerful at times here. The movie is rich with performance and that's saying something given that there's only two actors present here. I just wish they had a better script to work with.

First of all, Malcolm Elliot would be a horrible neighbor and very difficult person to live next to. Consider a scene where Marie goes to the bathroom outside. Consider a scene where they play music really loud and shout profanity as they argue at God knows what hour of the night. It's odd behavior that you only find in the movies, I know. But the way it's portrayed in this movie just comes off exhaustive after awhile. 

Plus, there is all the shouting in the house, and I wonder what the insulation is like for that home they live in.

I don't know how realistic this film is meant to be. I mean, there's no special effects, nothing supernatural or otherwise weird. It's played as real world as real world gets. And yet, human beings don't behave like actual human beings. I mean, what kind of couple shouts across the house at one another on more than one occasion? I mean, I know people joke about this stuff, but does it really actually happen? Do actors really have overblown, obnoxious reactions to critics? I don't know, but it didn't feel authentic and it felt phony.

I can see how the critical reception has been mixed but the audience reception has been highly positive. If you are the type of person who can be drawn by two actors giving it their all that you can ignore the rest of the flaws presented in the film, then you are going to love "Malcolm & Marie." This is merely an observation, not a dissection. But I notice that lots of people can drawn by actors, no matter how phony the film's contents are. Much like "Hillbilly Elergy," this is a movie that has two performances so solid that I wish there was a movie worthy of the said performances. Sadly, it's a film that doesn't feel authentic. A movie that presents ideas but has nothing to say about those ideas. Honestly, it feels like a jumbled experience and I don't really know how to feel about it.

FINAL GRADE: C

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