Written and filmed during the coronavirus pandemic, Malcolm & Marie arrives on Netflix to quite a substantial fanfare. Stars Zendaya and John David Washington are both very much two of the hottest actors around right now so putting them together is going to be enough to get a lot of people to watch your film however, there's much more to the film beneath the surface that makes it such an exhilirating experience.

A director (John David Washington) and his girlfriend's (Zendaya) relationship is tested after they return home from his movie premiere and await critics' responses.
Right from the opening scene, there was something in my mind telling me that Malcolm & Marie was going to be special. Presented in black and white, reflecting the confrontation between the titular characters and their ideaologies of their relationship, and the camera tracking Washington's Malcolm as he delivers a monologue about how he expects critics to react to his directorial debut, it had me fully engaged within minutes. There's something playing on Marie's mind and you can sense it's a matter of time before shit really hits the fan.

Exactly what it is might seem minor at first but it's the catalyst for the premise of the film and the extremely strong and harsh verbal exchanges between the pair that left me utterly exhausted yet thrilled. Sam Levinson's screenplay is a fascinating example of a power struggle within a couple who do love each other but a toxic nature threatens to take things to the next level. 

It's a constant back and forth that, over the course of real time, flutters between intense takedowns one moment and outpouring of love the next. Not just of each other either as Levinson takes aim at the state of film criticism in sections of his screenplay, which is where the film walks the line in becoming a bit cheap at times, particularly one moment Malcolm goes on an epic rant about a particular critic.
Malcolm & Marie is a film I just couldn't take my eyes off, the use of black and white sometimes feeling like a cheap trick to score points but it never feels that way here, signalling the grey areas of their relationship and the moods they're both projecting throughout the film. Marcell Rév's cinematography really aids the narrative, the movements of the camera through the house as the couple sort through their problems ensuring the audience is there for every single moment.

At the forefront of Malcolm & Marie is a pair of dynamic performances from two exciting young actors who really do have great futures ahead of them. Levinson has worked with Zendaya before on the television series Euphoria and she continues her hot streak after picking up an Emmy Award for her work in that with an incredible performance as Marie, proving Levinson really does know how to get the best from her. She brings a fierceness to the role but then there's a vulnerability behind those eyes that comes with Marie's backstory.

John David Washington brings his a-game alongside Zendaya, his powerful voice so cutting to Marie's soul but his fragile ego needing stroking, frustrated when she decides to bite back. He's such a captivating performer, his monologues scattered throughout demanding your attention but there's one moment of silent rage that was just note perfect for the moment in the argument and just brilliantly performed by Washington.

As I've said before, Malcolm & Marie left me exhausted but in a good way, watching these two characters pick each other apart and deconstruct their relationship with brutal honesty making for what could end up being the best film of the year. If either Zendaya or Washington wins any awards this season, all I will say is that they better thank the other when accepting.

Verdict: ★★★★★


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