In one of the most celebrated poems of all time, Shakespeare writes “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.” Centuries later Eliot in one of his dramatic monologue questions, again and again, if ‘would it have been worthwhile,’ to bother oneself with notions such as Love. While many today claim to have been wooed away by that magical feeling, and those swoony sensations of butterflies in their stomach, it’s obvious that with time the definition of being in love changed. Sam Levinson’s Netflix movie ‘Malcolm and Marie’ tries to be reflective of these modern relationships and I, am left wondering if it was worthwhile to sit through this aesthetically pleasing yet underwhelming noir featurette.
Following his film premier, filmmaker Malcolm Elliott (John David Washington) returns with his girlfriend Marie Jones (Zendaya). While waiting for the reviews to come by he notices Marie looking displeased. What follows is the first of many fights that last throughout the movie’s 106 minutes of runtime. Upset because she wasn’t acknowledged by her partner in his speech at the premiere, Marie lashes out on him and we are left with a study of their crumbling relationship and what led to it. Imagine the scene from Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story wherein Charlie and Nicole have a huge fight that ends with them crying on each other’s shoulder but for 106 minutes straight. That is Levision’s Malcolm and Marie in a nutshell – constant bickering between two people in love, who pause in between to make out/ smoke, which does less to ameliorate than to exacerbate the situation, resuming the interminable spewing of a tirade of abuses against one another. The callous comments and the vehemence of their several skirmishes make one wish that they eschew conversation and at times, they do. Followed by a litany of offenses, the silence in between is filled with beautiful songs saying things we’d like them to say to each other. Songs like ‘I forgot to be your lover’ by William Bell, ‘Wasted’ by NNAMDI, Dionne Warrick’s ‘Get Rid Of Him’ and many more benumbs the rising tension between them albeit sparsely.
The aesthetic black and white filter is much pleasing in that the monotonous plot replete with lengthy monologues. Moreover, the black and white theme seems to serve a better purpose to hint at Malcom’s disagreement with Film Critics who let identity politics get in the way of assessment. In the longest monologue of the movie, he is outraged by a positive review from a “white lady critic” as he believes she didn’t understand his film at all. Given Levison’s antipathy towards people who don’t understand the movie for what it is, I’ll abstain from commenting on the significance of the black and white theme of it.
What makes this movie worthwhile are the captivating performances by Zendaya and David Washington. Zendaya displays her prowess with finesse. Tenacious in one frame and capricious in the next, her monologues are driven with fervor. Even her silence screams excellence as we are forced to commiserate with her. David Washington shines in his role as he delivers lengthy monologues throughout the movie. Apoplectic with rage, verklempt with emotions, and subdued by a sense of guilt in the final moments of it, he breathes life into his character.
While being a buoyantly ambitious movie engaging with the intricacies of a relationship, it leaves one asking for more. What it excels at is probing deep into the insecurities, self-doubts, lack of being, and much more that comes out as the bonds grow older in modern relationships. It births a nuanced morbid fascination with minutiae of love as it forces upon us, the arguments between Malcolm and Marie that in moments of its sustained brilliance, connects with the viewer’s heart.
Md. Saemul Haque Noori is a student studying English Literature at Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Malaika M Khan