Is Sam Levinson’s new movie, Malcolm & Marie the start of a new kind of film-making? Conceived, written, filmed and edited during the COVID-19 pandemic, Malcolm & Marie marks the first big blockbuster to be newly filmed during these troubled times, announced in a time where films were being pushed back indefinitely, or upcoming projects where being abandoned entirely.
Filmed in beautiful black-and-white, Levinson directs Zendaya and John David Washington, two upcoming young stars, in a film that is very little on plot. It centres on a filmmaker, Malcolm Elliott (Washington) who returns home from a premiere of his newest film with his actress girlfriend, Marie Jones (Zendaya). Over time, the pair become more and more volatile, discussing in detail their relationship and their respective careers.
Due to the pandemic, the film had to be filmed with extreme precaution, including constant temperature checks and enforced quarantined time for all the cast and crew. Also, the film’s premise feels very pandemic inspired – set all in one location, all done with just two actors, and mainly set around dialogue.
There have been many great material that has been produced in lock-down, however, never really this big. Host – a found-footage horror movie set all on a Zoom call – was a particularly great “lockdown movie”, while in the music world, Taylor Swift has produced two of the greatest albums of her career, with both “Folklore” and “Evermore” being created and released in 2020. This feels like the very first time, however, that something has been created with such huge big stars, with Levinson, Washington and Zendaya all being on the huge rise over the past 2-3 years.
Because of the film’s singular location and dialogue-centric plot, there is an old-fashioned, “throwback” nature to this movie. It feels very similar to the “talky” movies of the 80s like My Dinner with Andre, Sex, Lies, and Videotape or The Breakfast Club, while Zendaya and Washington feel like the sort of beautiful, glamorous and charismatic couples of classic Hollywood like Bogart and Bacall or Hepburn and Tracy.
And, it’s great to see this sort of old-fashioned movie broadcast of such a big platform, and to be debuted with such big buzz. In the future, because of COVID-19 restrictions, we will definitely be seeing a lot more restricted, minimalist movies with fewer locations and fewer stars but just done with bigger stars and auteurist filmmakers. And, that quite an excited place to be in for the future of film.
However, in terms of Malcolm and Marie, the film itself is quite disappointing. There are many great things about it – one of it’s great visual style. The black-and-white cinematography is really beautiful and dazzling. Also, the camerawork is really terrific, and Levinson definitely has a big future ahead of him as an innovative filmmaker, much like his father before him. From the opening moment of an attention-grabbing panning shot of Washington dancing around his house, you know that this is going to be a really visually-staggering movie.
Much of visual style is let down by a mediocre script. I know it sounds bizarre to say, for a movie set around dialogue, but there is almost too much talking and too much dialogue in this film. Even the most dialogue-centric movies have moments of quiet and moments of subtle ease that gives the viewers a much-needed relief and gives us time to know and love the characters. It ultimately feels like Levinson hasn’t got enough confidence in himself, and therefore, just fills his script with STUFF, many of which has very little meaning or depth. The end result is a script lacking in subtlety, grace or wit and filled to brim with heavy-handed and annoying monologues (including a particularly painful one delivered by Washington about how much he hates film critics and how little they contribute to society).
Zendaya and Washington do their very best with this material, though. They have been up-and-coming rising stars over the past few years, both appearing in a mixture of blockbusters and independent films (Zendaya appearing in Euphoria and the Spider-Man films, while Washington appearing in Oscar nominee, BlacKkKlansman and 2020’s blockbuster, Tenet), and it will be great to see where they go next following this film.
The film possibly works best as an idea, only, and maybe doesn’t work as well as feature length movie that you have to sit though. There is a certain thrilling tension that comes in the first half, when Zendaya has quiet grievance towards Washington, but the moment when the two of them have to start talking about their feelings, the film becomes slightly tiresome and annoying.
Still, it’s very obvious that Levinson has a bright career ahead of him, as do Washington and Zendaya. Malcolm and Marie highlights the strengths of all three artists; it’s just a shame that it’s not coming from a film that a little more fleshed out and professional.