Returning home from an awards show, filmmaker Malcolm and his girlfriend, Marie, play into their deepest insecurities, leaving their relationship reeling.
For the most part, the film itself plays out in real-time, emphasized by the number of long takes, and this really helps the audience engage with the material. It is an intimate understanding of a woeful partnership – their flaws come to light as the relationship both crumbles and rebuilds. The claustrophobia sets in immediately, the atmosphere tense with brief moments of reconciliation as the couple are locked inside their home together. They have nowhere to go, and they are completely vulnerable.
The respective performances are fantastic, driven by raw emotion. They are simply captivating to watch, and the chemistry between the actors is so compelling it’s easy to forget that they are actors playing a quarreling couple. What starts as a minor inconvenience becomes a full-blown, perhaps even out of proportion, argument that keeps escalating. There is no predictability in this film and no way to gauge where the characters will end up.
The story is told entirely through dialogue, presumably due to being filmed during the early stages of the COVID pandemic, which limited interactions and the use of multiple locations. There is a very claustrophobic tone that is maintained throughout, almost poetic in how it reflects on the suffocating nature of their relationship. You are deeply encapsulated in this conflict, which continues to boil over.
Given that it is dialogue-heavy, the characters monologue more than anything else. It is quite expositional, and these scenes can be longer than necessary, mainly because the dialogue does not seem to flow naturally. It seems unrealistic for an arguing couple to be so calculated in the middle of a fight, engaging in these soliloquies before going back to firing insults at one another.
There should be so much depth to each of these characters, considering how much time we spend with them. However, neither of them seem to reach any development by the conclusion, both gaslighting each other whenever they have the chance. His own ego fuels Malcolm whereas Marie is plagued by the insecurities of her past and own life. They are a perfect example of a toxic relationship.
Though neither characters are particularly likable, John David Washington and Zendaya are stellar! It’s tense, it’s claustrophobic, but it is ultimately let down by these misplaced monologues. Despite this, Malcolm & Marie is certainly one to keep an eye out for, succeeding in capturing the essence of a timeless classic.