If I hadn’t known that “Malcom and Marie” was filmed during a pandemic, I probably wouldn’t have noticed.
I’m sure there are many troubles making a film, none of which I have experience with myself, but they are all exasperated during a public health emergency. Considering that the movie was shot during the height of the pandemic, everyone in this production should be lauded for braving through this to make such an excellent production.
This film, on paper, is quite simple. Filmmaker Malcolm Elliot (John David Washington) and his girlfriend Marie Jones (Zendaya) spend the night after the premiere of Malcolm’s directorial debut, well, arguing. To reveal the details of the arguing would be to reveal the real metaphorical “meat” of this film, so I won’t divulge too much on specific details.
They discuss (to put it nicely) topics as varied as casting choices, black filmmakers, film critics (to my dismay) and many of the complexities of adapting someone’s life to the screen. In essence, this is a radio play in which you can actually see the people talking. They go from room to room, verbally sparring and continuously making up and divulging into screaming matches almost like clockwork. I think Marie says it best at the beginning of the film, “nothing productive will be said tonight.”
This film, because of the circumstances of the production, holds a lot of the weight on the performances of the actors. Luckily, this gamble pays off, since Zendaya and Washington have a chemistry in this film almost good enough for Mendeleev. On top of that, the setting, the camerawork and even the diegetic music make an atmosphere that is just almost comfortable, but still keeps the audience (or, at least, me) on their toes.
I think the “bottle episode” style of filmmaking is one that can open a lot of doors for productions that aren’t exactly brimming with cash, and the framework of this story is unique enough, even now, that it can make a film hold up even when other aspects may be lacking.
With so much going for the film, a little more time on the script could have made it a masterwork. That’s not to say that the script’s particularly bad, but I am saying that even if you had completely perfect performances (and we get pretty close here), it can’t save the film from the occasional “huh?” moment. At times, this seems more like an argument that you would have with yourself in the shower than two human people talking to each other. Luckily for this script, we’ve got two of the finest actors on the scene today working these words, and work they do.
All stumbling aside, and this film does stumble at points, I think that we’ve got ourselves a pair of masterful performances in a quite compact package. All the positives of this film, ultimately, outweigh these shortcomings, and then some.
This film can get a bit exhausting at points, and it can even be a bit of a tearjerker, but I think that’s the nature of the subject matter. Ultimately, given the circumstances and a few structural weaknesses here and there, “Malcolm & Marie” is well worth your time.