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Malcolm & Marie

It's painful to watch Zendaya and Washington give what may be career-best performances in such an unfocussed and confused film.

Malcolm and marie film still

Sam Levinson’s ​Malcolm & Marie, ​like its protagonists, knows how to clean up nicely.

It knows how to shine its shoes, paint its nails and on which wrist to wear its statement timepiece. It then, much like the inciting incident of its ‘narrative’, promptly flops onto the couch in all those pretty clothes and gorges on a bowl of cheap, substanceless macaroni and cheese.

Following a turbulent night in the relationship between up-and-coming filmmaker Malcolm and despondent actor Marie, the film can best be described as a long string of arguments where the sole goal of our duelling protagonists is to sound as intelligent and as cutting as possible.

While this may perhaps ring true in the scheme of a romantic squabble, there are only so many times a character can have the last word before they simply become… words. Levinson’s monologues and meandering back-and-forths inevitably become noise before they become anything worthwhile.

It's painful to watch Zendaya and John David Washington give what may be career-best performances for a script that is very comfortable leaving the forlorn Marie and the obnoxious Malcolm exactly as they are when we meet them, never-changing and unfortunately ever-vocal. It​’s also a truly gorgeous film – Marcell Rév’s cinematography is sexy, rich and alluring, and does wonders in making this tiny world feel less so. It’s a real shame that these two delightful elements exist in the film in which they do.

Malcolm & Marie ​can’t decide if it’s a hit piece against subjective criticism or a domestic drama about a parasitic relationship. These core ideas are unsurprisingly never reconciled as Levinson’s screenplay simply cannot support its own claustrophobic, character-driven story. It lacks a backbone, it lacks a point and it lacks the baseline level of competency to say anything at all with gumption. What it certainly does have is a whole lot of cutting ripostes and witty comebacks, amid arguments which the film has entirely with itself.

This is Levinson’s vision, to put us in the shoes of a bottle of shampoo as he absent-mindedly bickers with an imaginary opponent in the shower, having just remembered what someone at The ​LA Times ​said about him three years – and an Emmy award-winning show – ago.

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