‘Malcolm and Marie’ Review: Turbulent Relationship Drama Proves an Emotionally Draining Experience

John David Washington and Zendaya showcase their acting capabilities with just under two hours of incessant arguing. Malcolm and Marie spends an evening in the shoes of the titular couple, whose relationship is incredibly up-and-down, to say the least. Having spent the night at director Malcolm’s film premiere, he and Marie begin arguing about the fact that he didn’t thank her in his speech, despite the film taking large amounts of inspiration from her struggles with drug addiction. From there, the fight escalates to the point that they question the very nature of their relationship as it begins to completely break down.

From the opening moments of the film, all eyes are on John David Washington. This is a very dialogue-heavy film, and as such, there isn’t much scope for a physically big performance. Despite this, he fills his acting with as much physicality as possible. He dances around enthusiastically in the opening scene and takes moments to express his anger in energetic bursts, kicking and stomping around outside. His dialogue delivery is also fantastic, aided by the fact that Malcolm does not just argue with Marie, he shouts her down and insults her to the point where their fight crosses the line into outright abuse. His pretentious, self-absorbed nature combined with the number of times he gaslights Marie and calls her crazy will have you immediately sympathising with her.

However, Marie is not without faults herself. Both characters escalate the situation until it is blown up out of all proportion and their relationship is (at least temporarily) in tatters. The two make arguing look so natural that they give the impression of being in a constant break-up-make-up cycle. Marie is not as full of insults as Malcolm, reacting to him first with anger and then with sadness and occasionally resignation, but Zendaya’s performance is equal in brilliance to John David Washington’s.

Their talent, however, does not detract from the fact that Malcolm and Marie is a feature-length film running entirely on bombastic arguments. Their relationship is characterised by intense and unhealthy ups and downs, and Malcolm always seems to be angry about something. When it isn’t Marie, it’s the reviews of white critics. He even monologues frustratedly about the finer details of a positive review his film received. This persistent anger hangs over Malcolm and Marie like a dark cloud and makes it a very difficult and emotionally draining watch. The concept overall seems better-suited to a short film, as the feature-length film outstays its welcome by far. It often feels like there is no end in sight. The film simply drags on, depicting a relationship that is horribly toxic.

The little positivity that there is to be found in Malcolm and Marie comes from its message. The film seems to be teaching a lesson about considering how we speak to our partners, being mindful of the good things they do for us, and expressing gratitude for it. By the time the titular couple are reminded of this, though, it feels like too little, too late. The film does not have a definitive ending, and it is unclear what will become of Malcolm and Marie, as a couple or individually. The lack of resolution means that the message falls flat and the time invested in watching Malcolm and Marie’s turbulent relationship feels just a little bit wasted.

While Malcolm and Marie might be worth watching to experience the powerhouse performances of Zendaya and John David Washington, it is otherwise a bloated, draining, drama-fest that will leave you feeling thoroughly deflated.

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