Excruciatingly Beautiful: Thought Malcolm and Marie

Amy McQuaid-England
2 min readFeb 6, 2021

Malcolm and Marie, the Netflix movie written and directed by Sam Levinson, came out today. It is beautifully filmed in black and white and set in one location. It’s about one night in Malcolm’s (John David Washington) and Marie’s (Zendaya) relationship but explores the emotional baggage of their entire existence together.

Zendaya and Washington are undeniable force and beautiful together. This movie is a showcase of their immense talent. But, I do think they were amazing despite Levinson’s writing.

The movie premise is simple; Marie is upset after her self-indulgent director boyfriend Malcolm forgets to thank her at his movie premiere. It begins when they arrive home and slowly spiral out of control and in dysfunctional dynamics in their codependent relationship. Malcolm is the type of man who always dates the most damaged women at the most vulnerable times in their life and then uses those vulnerabilities to extort power and possession over them. Or, in Malcolm’s case, he uses those experiences to create art. Marie is a recovering addict who feels underappreciated and resentful that Malcolm takes everything and seems to give nothing back. Even casting someone else in the role, he wrote for her.

The dialogue is exhausting. It came across like emotional outbursts by Levinson himself, making the movie suffocating. It felt like being a friend trapped in a room with a couple at the end of their toxic relationship and unable to escape. The damage that Malcolm and Marie inflicted on each other is similar to collateral damages Levison causes by indulging in his personal feelings and trying to reframe it as a discussion about black art and how film critics and, in particular, white girl film critics review black art through a white lens (Yes I am a white girl, the irony does not escape me as I write this review) but these rants by Malcolm made me uncomfortable and not for the reasons Levison wanted.

Robert Daniels wrote, “How using a black actor to vent white frustration sinks Malcolm & Marie” it explains perfectly why it just didn’t sit right. “Levinson, a white director, uses Malcolm as a black shield for his real target, not the critic who analyzes black words but the ones who interpret his.” I would suggest reading the entire think piece; Daniels clearly explains how Levinson uses black actors to vent white frustration.”

And this is why this movie doesn’t work. Levison, son of writer-director-actor Barry Levinson best known for Rain Man and Wag the Dog, indulges in his white male angst over the film industry and film critics and hopes the audience won’t notice his failures because he packages it in an exquisite black and white aesthetic and brilliant performances of Zendaya and Washington.