Saturday, February 6, 2021

Malcolm & Marie

♣♣♣/♣♣♣♣♣

Writer/Director Malcolm Elliott (John David Washington) is ecstatic over his movie premiere and impatiently awaits the first set of reviews from critics. His anxiety is exacerbated by girlfriend Marie Jones’ (Zendaya) aloof demeanor coming home from the event, with an impending lovers’ quarrel lurking in the horizon. The two spend the night reflecting about his film career, her past struggles with drug addiction, as well as the ever-changing dynamics of their complicated relationship. She is disappointed because he does not thank her in his speech despite her life story being the basis of his now successful cinematic debut. She also has qualms about his decision to sideline her in the casting process, thinking that she would have been the perfect reel embodiment of her real-life story. As they go further into the night and in between makeshift macaroni and cheese dinner servings, the couple evaluate the status of their future as a pair.

The black and white treatment always makes a movie seem to have more to offer than it really does, doesn’t it? In the case of Malcolm & Marie, it has been made clear that this was done to make the setting vaguer and to somehow divert the viewer’s attention from the lackluster set. Lest we forget, this was filmed during the pandemic, and the material is just perfect for health protocols to be observed given how the storyline just revolves around two people. In that regard, this movie succeeds, but not convincingly so.

It appears Netflix has been experimenting with the films they have been funding lately. On one hand you have the deluge of teenybopper flicks. On the other hand, you also have what seems to be the for-your-consideration movies that end up touring the awards circuit. Remember A Marriage Story and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom? Whatever this subgenre is called, it seems that the common denominator is how they feel a bit theatrical, like the material looks more appropriate for the theater rather than the big screen.

Malcolm & Marie is like a collage of kilometric monologues with several intermissions of heated dialogue. There does not seem to be any plot involved here at all. Instead, you just have two people arguing. A lot. Along with the minimalist setting, it further bolsters the theatrical appeal of the material. That means that for someone with a relatively shorter attention span, what awaits you is a borefest that can only be overcome if you happen to be a fan of either Zendaya or Washington.

As such, we focus again on the actors, because a material like this almost always ends up being an acting showcase, the type that rakes in acting awards left and right. In this case, Zendaya seems to have successfully stolen the spotlight from her co-actor. While she did not end up getting a lot of acting nominations, at least her performance here is a clear indicator that she is ready to leave her teenybopper past behind to focus more on mature roles that will expand her repertoire.

The same cannot be said of Washington, though. Try as he might, the character is just bogged down by what seems to be an excuse for the director to rant about how Hollywood has treated him by making an entire movie about it and using Malcolm as a mouthpiece for those complaints. While the character does play the race card, it doesn’t help much in eliciting sympathy, even more so when you consider the whiny delivery, like a man child screaming for validation he just couldn’t get.

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