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Malcolm & Marie

Year: 2021
Studio: Netflix
Director: Sam Levinson
Writer: Sam Levinson
Cast: John David Washington, Zendaya

You might not like the premise, but I can't see any reason why you'd find fault with the execution. Both Zendaya and John David Washington give their all to bring a realistic script to vibrant life to tell the story of their rapidly imploding relationship. You might just take issue with beautiful rich people's problems.

What's interesting is that we saw something similar a couple of years back in Marriage Story (the protagonists there were also an actress and a director) but Noah Baumbach's story of the end of a marriage was critically beloved, unlike this effort by Sam (son of Barry) Levinson.

Malcolm (Washington) and his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya) come home to an opulent Malibu house. She immediately starts making him mac and cheese, he immediately puts on a smooth R&B track. In short order it's apparent there's something unsaid causing problems.

Exactly what's unsaid unfurls as organically as the circumstances around the couple and what's bought them to the house. It's after the premiere of Malcolm's breakout film, the story of a young woman who fought her way back from the brink of drug addiction that the critics all loved.

What we learn as the fight goes from simmering to boiling point and back again is that it was all based on Marie's life, and even though Malcolm stood on stage accepting all the accolades, he didn't acknowledge the contribution she's made to his life and work.

It doesn't help that Malcolm appears to be a self-involved blowhard anyway (a film director on the cusp of stardom? you don't say!). He's obsessed with his burgeoning industry image, and no matter how fawning the press he has to find fault with it. He rails against being the latest diverse voice in Hollywood, wondering why they're not comparing him to William Wyler rather than Spike Lee.

Even when the LA Times critic who virtually threw herself at him after the screening posts a glowing review later that night, he obsesses on a single line that could be taken either way, railing against the short sightedness of the critical establishment. This is a man who's narcissistic to the point where he'll never be humble or accepting of his success.

Marie, by contrast, is painted as the long-suffering woman who has to put up with his exploding ego, one she's hardly in the mood to share space with if he's going to cast her influence and support aside so callously.

As the pair eat, smoke, bathe, make out and go about their night in crisp black and white with a slowly panning or static camera, things blow up repeatedly, turning uglier each time as they each attempt to dig deep into their own insecurities and resentments about past sleights to cut the other as savagely as they can.

Unlike a lot of critics I found it well acted and well written, but I can understand why you don't want to see yet another first world couple pissed off because life isn't perfect.

There was also a lot of comment (apparently some of it contributing to the negative reviews) about the age difference between the two, and it struck me the first time I ever heard about it as well. After BlacKkKlansman and Tenet I figured Washington was a proper grown up and after appearing in the most recent crop of Spider-Man movies, I thought Zendaya was more of a kid. I was right (he's 36, she's 24) and her performance does meet his blow for blow, but it still struck me as weird.

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