Reviewed by Chris Narine
The aspirations that had guided Sam Levinson towards his current Hollywood reign had already been paved prior to his actual content output. Born in the mid-’80s and better known as the son of award-winning filmmaker Barry Levinson, modern filmmaker Sam Levinson had already been plagued by a historical family stigma. Like the leading man of his latest picture, John David Washington, the names of their fathers will always raise an eye to your average, knowledgeable film critic. This isn’t to undercut the content Levinson’s most recently put out, but to provide a reminder for context for Malcolm & Marie that this writer believes enhances the film’s own characterization of its central character, Malcolm.
On the arrival home from his movie premiere, filmmaker Malcolm Elliott (John David Washington) and his girlfriend Marie Jones (Zendaya) both wrestle with the trials and tribulations both parties have intricately internalized. Slowly, we’re given a narrative whose zany sensibilities are here to enhance the bitterness of its gloomy yet minimalistic story. Beyond the writing, it’s Levinson’s direction itself that lightens things up. From his debut Assassination Nation to Euphoria, Levinson’s stylistic sensibilities are always pivotal. He lets colors and camera angles serve as visual noise to his ever-familiar yet never dull stories. Malcolm & Marie is no exception.
Released just shortly after his two minimized Euphoria specials, Malcolm & Marie finds Levinson retaining the same self-awareness and reflective musings that filled the dialogue in much of those specials. Here Malcolm and Marie find themselves arguing about infidelity, the incentive behind film criticism, and the dynamic of their relationship that may or may not have served as creative inspiration for Malcolm Elliot’s latest project. It’s the kind of picture that could only be crafted by someone in the same type of predicament as Levinson. Here he makes excellent usage of his actors, both of whom are in top form, and lets his directorial energy run high on their sensibilities.
John David Washington is nothing short of magnificent here, breathing life into the role of Malcolm Elliot. It’s an appropriately showy, unhinged turn that allows Washington to display hints of dark comedy in a way that feels appropriately organic with the role he’s given. While Zendaya has already made a name for herself as a compelling dramatic actress, she goes toe to toe with Washington in several of the film’s dramatic high points. Bringing the same raw emotional intensity that rightfully won her an Emmy for Euphoria, she makes Marie Jones into one of the most iconic, stunning movie characters in recent memory and walks away with the film. It’s an electrifying performance that undoubtedly showcases the highest promise for the future of her blossoming career.
Where Assassination Nation relied most heavily on stylistic measures, the technical sensibilities on display in Malcolm & Marie create a most refreshingly laid-back approach to the story. It boasts gorgeous imagery that harkens back to the golden days of cinema, as well as a fantastic soundtrack and score by Labrinth. Here Levinson is at his most personal,. Even when certain moments of dialogue can feel perhaps overwrought, Malcolm & Marie does nothing but show the versatility in Levinson’s skills as a director. Under his care, this semi-dark comedy/psychological drama is refined into a great, unfiltered two-hander.