MOVIE REVIEW: “Malcolm & Marie” Mostly Meets The Mark ★★★

GOOD Morning Wilton‘s movie reviewer, Sebastian Hunt, is a senior at Wilton High School who loves film and television and hopes to become a filmmaker himself one day. He’s already gotten a jump start on that, producing his own screenplays and planning on submitting his work to film festivals. You can learn more about Sebastian on GMW‘s “Our Team” page. 

Singin’ in the Rain, Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Dr. notwithstanding, I generally dislike the subgenre of “films about filmmaking.” They simply tend to be irritating, either slavishly romanticizing Hollywood glamour or smugly condemning the business that birthed them in the first place.

So, perhaps the fact that I didn’t hate Malcolm & Marie — a Tinseltown-set Netflix original — is commendable in and of itself. While I felt predestined to be underwhelmed by Sam Levinson’s latest film, I ultimately emerged thoroughly… whelmed. Malcolm & Marie is just sort of okay; relatively inoffensive Oscar bait enhanced by strong performances but hampered by an intensely unoriginal script.

In a plot that owes a great deal to Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt, Malcolm & Marie depicts the romantic fallout between film director Malcolm (John David Washington) and his girlfriend, Marie (Zendaya). Washington and Zendaya are both very good, though Zendaya is the undeniable standout. Likewise, Levinson’s direction is entertainingly jazzy, aided by fanciful cinematography.

Levinson’s writing, unfortunately, is decidedly less inspired. The screenplay for Malcolm & Marie lifts major beats and progressions from other, better relationship dramas, most notably Contempt and Before Midnight. Furthermore, Levinson allows the outside world to seep into his script. Having endured a less-than-harmonious relationship with film critics in the past, Levinson frequently utilizes his characters as mouthpieces to defend critiques of his prior work. This is a bit disorienting and reeks of insecurity on the director’s part. There’s a scene near the midpoint of Malcolm & Marie, which only seems to exist so that Levinson can covertly clamor, “See?! You were wrong to criticize me! I’m right and you’re wrong!”

Save for that one narrative swerve, however, there’s nothing really to get fired up about in Malcolm & Marie, good or bad. It is a perfectly fine, middle-of-the-road breakup film; a satisfying enough viewing experience if you can’t find Contempt on streaming or have tired of rewatching Marriage Story.