Couples everywhere have been subject to an issue that slowly rises to the surface. It just snowballs and snowballs. One day, something may happen where it triggers an all-out argument. If you’re not careful enough or cognizant of the signs being there, this is exactly what will happen. Sometimes it’s after a film premiere, right after your girlfriend begrudgingly makes you mac and cheese. Malcolm & Marie as a movie is a long coalescence of issues that could have been worked out with listening. Malcolm (John David Washington), fresh off an emotional high being a first-time director, gets the cold shoulder from his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya) because he forgot to thank her in his speech. To see things from a surface-level perspective, that’s a pretty big omission.
However, as the movie goes forward, we see that it’s more than that one acknowledgment. For a relationship to keep growing, it has to be a co-production. Each person has to feel included in some way, shape, or form. Malcolm often thinks with the brain of an artist first. Marie, still recovering from her struggles from drug abuse, is looking to prove that her being is bigger than that. She wants Malcolm, the person who she loves to see that foremost. Therefore, he gets so riled up when he’s discussing the reviews of his film. It’s the medium that breathes life into him the most. Marie, mostly, just lets him get all the energy out. She watches in bated elation and amusement as he breaks down how a white critic saw his film. However, there’s a listless sadness attached to it. Anytime that Malcolm and Marie embrace, it’s short-lived. It becomes another manifestation of the knives and sharp observations that they’ve been keeping for this moment. Even down to the songs that they play in response to one another.
If you’ve watched HBO’s Euphoria, then you’re going to be familiar with director/writer Sam Levinson‘s style. Breaks happen during arguments where Malcolm and Marie have a reprieve. Then music from Labrinth plays just like the show. The structure of the house itself is modern and big enough where they can lose each other. In the few times that we visit outside, it feels like they are on their own island. Having these intense conversations in the wee hours of the morning where nothing else can reach them. Washingon and Zendaya’s performances are very committed, precise, and heartfelt. Sometimes you forget they are playing a role and not an actual couple.
Malcolm and Marie’s premise can be both eye-opening and frustrating at the same time. Much of it feels like a revolving door of reset and battle that could be curtailed if they both just slept on it. Every time it appears they are going to come to some resolution, it starts up again. Someone either has to have the last word or stick the dagger in further. There’s a scene where Marie is crying in the bathtub and Malcolm is speaking to her. At first, it’s very derogatory and almost throws her past back at her face. Then it takes a turn when he says, “I don’t need you, but I love you.” He goes ahead and explains even though she struggles with self-love, he loves her and all her imperfections. Scenes like that are where the black and white aesthetic and the close-up shows are their most powerful. You’re not able to turn away from the vulnerability of the tears that run down Marie’s face in the bathtub scene. The audience has to sit in the emotional heaviness that’s been sitting inside them.
The problem lies in that this might be one of the first times he’s affirmed her in that manner. There may be a critique, as Marie should have some sense of value outside of Malcolm. That in relationships is a crucial pillar. As she says at the beginning of the film, Malcolm has encouraged her to be her own person. However, much of his film in her life. There’s an intimacy that the world gets to experience that they only knew at first before this fight, and her prize was to be a muse. The hurt that she felt because he didn’t consider her to star in the film is that Malcolm can’t see her past inspiration for work. Marie acting out that scene on the kitchen floor is her urging him to see her past her afflictions. His film is his crowning achievement up to that point, but to his relationship, there are caveats to that. Blind spots, even.
Relationships are hard work. They are tough; they are full of hard decisions and talks. But they get easier if you just pay attention. Just noticing all the little quirks and changes in the person you love can be a lifeline. Being an artist, you get so tunnel-visioned that something slips. Seeing someone you love to excel at something and being left out can have you questioning everything. Therefore, that’s why Marie says the speech at the end, and the last piece of dialogue is Malcolm saying, “I love you, Marie.” Was it right for Marie to bring that up on his biggest night? Maybe not, but when would be the right time?
There’s no doubt that Malcolm and Marie love each other. Hence, the metaphorical meeting during the sunrise. We live to fight another day (so to speak). However, just as important as it is to love each other, it’s how to love each other.