By: Amanda Guarragi
Sam Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie is a very interesting watch. This is the first movie, in a very long time, where I still don’t know how to feel about it. Am I supposed to enjoy the film based on the performances alone? Am I supposed to dislike it because the screenplay is absolutely bonkers? Levinson masks his own insecurities as a filmmaker, by combining his personal grievances towards critics and writing from the perspective of a Black filmmaker… which didn’t make sense. Sure, John David Washington and Zendaya give fantastic performances but the film is just an endless cycle of arguments.
First and foremost, why is Sam Levinson writing from the perspective of a Black filmmaker? The dialogue that he gives Malcolm (John David Washington) is oddly specific. It was as if he scrolled through reviews of other films and tried to find the most ridiculous ones to put in the script. I wish Levinson just kept it general instead of criticizing reviews from a perspective that he doesn’t know much about. As you watch Malcolm rant for the entire movie, over one review, you see it through a white lens. Levinson literally made a film criticizing white critics, for using the same language, when reviewing Black-led films and accuses them of “trying” to be progressive. Yet he made a film from the perspective of a Black filmmaker, addressing these issues, when he could have been generalizing the rant instead. So if you think about it, it’s contradictory to what he was trying to do.
If we remove the endless rants about critics knowing absolutely nothing about the art of cinema, Malcolm and Marie (Zendaya) have a very toxic relationship. They are constantly badgering each other, provoking the other and jabbing each other with the most hurtful things. It’s as if Levinson thought about the worst possible things he could ever say to a person and just threw it in every single argument. The film was exhausting to sit through. Every single time they would calm down, Malcolm or Marie, would bring something else up and start all over again. By the third argument, you’re just blown away by the fact that they’re still going. It just drags on and leaves you with a headache.
It’s entirely possible that I liked Malcolm & Marie but I can also acknowledge all the flaws. The performances carry it all the way and in all honesty the film wouldn’t have worked without Zendaya or John David Washington. They elevated Levinson’s words (as absurd as they were) to make you want to listen to what they had to say. However, the way Levinson addresses white critics reviewing a Black filmmakers work just doesn’t feel authentic. It felt like he had all this pent up rage and he wanted to express it but he also didn’t want to make it about himself. The script is incredibly narcissistic and just left me asking, “but why? what’s the point of this” and now I’m realizing, maybe there was no point. He just wanted to rant and he expressed it in the only way he knew how, through the art of cinema.