Zendaya shines, emphasizes maturity in 'Malcolm & Marie'

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“Malcolm & Marie” centers around a filmmaker and his girlfriend and the trials and triumphs of their relationship. The title couple, played by John David Washington and Zendaya respectively, arrive back home after the premiere of Malcolm’s new movie. From there, the movie dives into the complicated dynamic of their relationship as well as the struggles that each counterpart are grappling with individually.

This film was shot during the COVID-19 pandemic, so it literally has a cast of two people and was shot in one location. This is both a strength and a weakness of the movie. The strength being that it allows the audience to understand and relate to the characters on a deeper level. While the weakness is whether or not the dialogue is interesting enough to keep the audience’s attention for the entire runtime. 

Another negative aspect is the verbal warfare that the characters take part in. This may be triggering and/or difficult to watch for some. Their relationship is not a healthy one, and that is made evident within the first ten minutes of the film. 

The work by writer, director and producer Sam Levinson can’t go without being acknowledged. While he has received backlash in Hollywood surrounding this film, since he is a white male writing a story about the struggles and lives of a Black filmmaker and actress, I still think that the film works as a whole quite well--though the concern over him telling this story is completely valid. A large part of that is due to the work of the cast. 

Washington and Zendaya exceeded all of my expectations going into this film. Both actors deliver arguably the best performances of their careers. 

Washington is most notably known for his work in “BlacKkKlansman” (2018) and “Tenet” (2020). He is a force to be reckoned with on the screen and really brings his own intensity and life to every character he plays. His performance as Malcolm here really highlights his range as an actor, as Malcolm goes through many different emotions and bursts of energy while awaiting reviews of his new film. Washington goes from pacing calmly and giving a gentle monologue, to screaming and going on a rant for a straight five minutes in the next beat. He truly shines.

However, it is Zendaya’s work in this film as Marie that takes center stage. I think that for a long time, Zendaya has been seen as a child due to her career getting its start on Disney and most of the characters she plays being in high school. “Malcolm & Marie” is, hopefully, the beginning of the end of that narrative. Her maturity and experience in the industry shines in this film and it’s about time she was recognized properly for her talent instead of being belittled and/or not taken seriously due to her age. She is able to match and surpass the energy that Washington gives off and they balance each other out greatly throughout the entirety of the movie. 

There is also much to be said about the soundtrack of the movie. The music adds so much more depth to the characters and their lives as well as the atmosphere surrounding this story as a whole. There is a mix of modern funk and jazz infused into the background of the movie, and it works extremely well. 

“Malcolm & Marie” is definitely a movie that garners split reactions from its viewers. The acting, cinematography and soundtrack are astounding, but it is also a very dialogue-heavy and claustrophobic movie. Again, this movie may be triggering for some as it does deal with a toxic relationship and multiple intense occurrences of verbal abuse. I recommend giving it a watch if you are in the right state of mind to do so. It is now streaming on Netflix.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of The Torch.


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