Is Netflix’s Malcolm & Marie good? It’s…complicated.


If you’re wondering whether Netflix‘s Malcolm & Marie will suit your tastes, you’ve got to ask yourself three questions:

  1. How do I feel about a movie done completely in black and white?
  2. Do I need more than two actors for a nearly two-hour film to hold my attention?
  3. Am I capable of watching two people argue for an entire movie?

Your answers to those questions are going to affect your ability to appreciate this film which is visually gorgeous, both intimate and isolating, and relentlessly confrontational.

Malcolm & Marie, written and directed by Sam Levinson (Euphoria), was made in the early months of the ongoing COVID pandemic when Hollywood had shutdown to prevent spread. It’s a film born of its circumstances with its two leads in a remote location hashing out a deeply personal argument about art, partnership, storytelling, and the importance of gratitude for what someone brings to your life no matter how small.

But for all of its beauty, Malcolm & Marie deals heavily with the rot in the titular characters’ relationship.

Malcolm & Marie is misery personified but that’s the point

Malcolm (John David Washington) is a proud but insecure filmmaker who wants his work to be judged without the considerations and projections critics heap on him because of his race and his gender. His need for validation leads him to rail against the critics he despises whilst eagerly awaiting their judgment of his film so that he can pick at it all while caring about what they have to say even when he says he doesn’t care.

He is egotistical and ill-tempered. Incapable of seeing past himself. Intolerably one-track minded and in love with Marie (Zendaya). But watching the two is an exercise in joining them in their misery. From the moment they get home from the premiere of Malcolm’s film Imani to when they finally go to sleep, the two are fighting. And these are not tepid fights.

Sure, they’re moments of levity and romance, but Malcolm & Marie is mostly cutting words that get deeper and deeper into what’s really wrong between this couple. Their argument starts because Malcolm forgot to thank Marie in his speech but it balloons into one about how Malcolm sees Marie. And it grows and grows, encompassing Marie’s addiction, Malcolm’s use of her life in his work, Marie’s own dreams and goals, manipulative behavior, and narcissism.

Interspersed between these arguments are Malcolm’s tirades against the entire premise of critique and looking for meaning in the choices filmmakers make when they’re creating. Marie is always his counterweight in these moments. Presenting another side, another perspective, and grounding Malcolm when he acts as if he’s above reproach.

But she is both heard and unheard, constantly needling Malcolm closer and closer to the understanding that his thoughtlessness hurt her.  In her doing so, however, we are treated to Malcolm’s repeated tearing down of Marie’s personhood. And that is not to say that she doesn’t give as good as she gets, aiming at Malcolm’s vulnerability and weaknesses, waiting to see which barb lands best and sends his insecurity skyrocketing. She does, but Malcolm & Marie is exhausting.

From the whiplash fights to Malcolm’s clear goal of getting through all of this so that he can finally sleep with Marie like he thought he’d get to do immediately after the premiere, the movie is tiresome. It feels like it goes on forever as fights that seem to have no end tend to feel.

While that may be the point—making the audience feel the weight and gravity of the utter decay in this relationship—if that’s not something you’re prepared to deal with, this movie is going to be a flop for you. Even with its worthy discussions of emotional labor, being taken for granted, and what it costs you when someone else tells your story.

Zendaya is superb in the brilliantly written film Malcom & Marie. dark. Next