Malcom & Marie: A bold attempt during the pandemic | Sunday Observer

Malcom & Marie: A bold attempt during the pandemic

20 June, 2021

‘Malcolm & Marie’ is a 2021 American black-and-white romantic drama film written, produced and directed by Sam Levinson.

The film stars Zendaya and John David Washington (who both also produced), and follows a writer-director and his girlfriend whose relationship is tested on the night of his latest film’s premiere, when revelations about themselves surface. The project was the first Hollywood feature to be entirely written, financed, and produced during the Covid-19 pandemic, with filming taking place in secret in June and July 2020. American recording artist Kid Cudi serves as an executive producer on the film.

‘Malcolm & Marie’ received a limited release on January 29, 2021, before being released digitally on February 5, 2021, by Netflix. The film received mixed reviews from critics, who praised Zendaya and Washington’s performances and chemistry and Levinson’s direction, but criticized his screenplay. For her performance, Zendaya was nominated for Best Actress at the 26th Critics’ Choice Awards.

Relationship piece

In 2020, Sam Levinson and Zendaya were both involved in the HBO show ’Euphoria’, which had stopped production due to the pandemic, and the two discussed the possibility and idea of making a feature film project during the pandemic. Levinson pitched several possibilities to Zendaya, including a psychological thriller they would film at her home. He then began to come up with “a relationship piece that plays out in real time.”

John David Washington joined the project after Levinson read 10 pages of dialogue to Washington over the phone, saying, “I couldn’t believe it. It was beautiful words I heard, and at the same time very disturbing with visceral confrontations.”

After receiving approval from the Writers Guild of America, SAG-AFTRA and the Directors Guild of America, principal production took place from June 17 to July 2, shooting entirely at the Caterpillar House, a private home in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

The film followed local Covid-19 safety protocols, including the entire cast and crew being quarantined during shooting, as well as two weeks before and after shooting, daily temperature checks, and increased sanitation measures. The crew included many members of the ‘Euphoria’ crew, including cinematographer Marcell Rév and production designer Michael Grasley.

Both Washington and Zendaya were responsible for doing their own makeup and picking out their own costumes, as there were no makeup artists or costume designer on set. No more than 12 people were allowed on set at a time. The production also had to be kept very confined so that the cast and crew could remain undisturbed during shooting. The film was shot on black-and-white 35 mm film.

Critical response

According to review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 57% of 232 critic reviews were positive, with an average rating of 6.30/10. The website’s critics consensus reads, “Malcolm & Marie’s ambitions aren’t always satisfactorily fulfilled, but its flaws are often offset by the strong chemistry between the film’s stars.” On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 53 out of 100, based on 42 critics, indicating “mixed or average reviews.”

Writing for ’Variety’, Peter Debruge said, “Levinson gives his stars roughly equal time, carefully modulating the sense of balance throughout. His direction seldom seems showy, and yet, we sense the intention behind each cut as power and control shifts throughout the movie.”

David Ehrlich of ’IndieWire’ gave the film a grade of C+ and wrote, “Sam Levinson’s exasperatingly gorgeous ’Malcolm & Marie’ is a lot like the two people who lend its title their names: confident and insecure in equal measure, stuffed to the gills with big ideas but convinced of nothing beyond its own frenzied existence, and reverent of Hollywood’s past at the same time it’s trying to stake a new claim for its future.”

Will Gompertz of BBC News awarded the film 2/5 stars, writing, “John David Washington and Zendaya have been bickering for well over an hour when a moment of theatrical excellence (at 80 mins, to be precise) lights up an otherwise pedestrian drama about a couple having a domestic.” Charles Bramesco of Little White Lies criticised the film for being an “awkward, hideously overacted talkathon,” scoring it with a 1/5 rating.

In a very positive review, Mike Crowley of ’You’ll Probably Agree called Malcolm & Marie’ a “decent quarantine capsule,” concluding that it is “pretentious in all the right ways,” and scored the film with a 3.5/4 rating. Although criticizing the film itself, Gompertz positively reviewed “the impressive acting chops of Washington and Zendaya.”

Bill Lowry of CNN Entertainment similarly praised their acting, writing, “pairing Zendaya and John David Washington, the movie -- quickly and stealthily shot during the pandemic -- wins points for ingenuity, then loses them with its shrill tone and the uneven hairpin turns of its writing.”

One of the film’s early champions was ’FilmSpeak’s’ Zach Marsh, who, in a glowing review, unilaterally praised the writing, the performances of Washington and Zendaya, and the cinematography, calling Malcolm & Marie “one of the greatest films of the past twenty years,” and predicting that the film would come to be seen as such by critics in retrospect.

In a response to criticism, Sam Levinson said that some reviewers focused too much on Malcolm and his speech on film criticism, and disregarded the importance of Marie’s character and opposing viewpoint. Nathalie Moreira of High on Films wrote, “Sam Levinson’s new feature deconstructs traditional romance stereotypes in favour of a modern love story filled with resentment, disorientation, and unresolved issues.”