Fans had high hopes for the Netflix drama film Malcolm & Marie. After all, it stars Zendaya and John David Washington and looks like it is something viewers can really sink their teeth into.
But once you get past some solid performances and very stylish cinematography, there is simply very little substance here. As the surprise 2019 hit A Marriage Story shows us, it’s possible to create a captivating film driven almost entirely by dialogue. But Malcolm & Marie fails to capture that same magic and comes across as both tedious and dull.
Part of why the movie suffers is the attempt to create a kind of meta-narrative. This is a movie about a character (Washington’s Malcolm) obsessed with creating the perfect movie. But he’s haunted by negative reviews of his previous work and openly rants about critics in a way that makes the creative forces behind this film seem petty and resentful.
The end result is a movie preemptively shielding itself from criticism by attacking the role of critics. And such cheekiness would play better if the core of the story lived up to its promise. But the simple truth is that the sparks flying between the titular Malcolm and Marie never amount to anything more than a wet fizzle due to the weakness of the script.
Ultimately, we are left with a film that can’t figure out what it wants to be. On one hand, it’s one in a long line of movies about making movies (such films are typically catnip for critics and major awards alike). On the other hand, it’s a film where the resentment of the writer towards critics and criticism manages to overshadow the romantic tension at the heart of the leads’ performance. Perhaps that’s why the film was, surprisingly, snubbed at the Golden Globe nominations earlier this week.
The worst part is that, at times, you get a glimpse of what the movie could have been. The film’s commentary on how race affects the critical reception and narratives around film is brutally honest. And the chemistry between Zendaya and Washington is constantly threatening to leap out of each scene.
At this point, though, their best move would be to leap into a better film!
Malcolm & Marie is streaming now on Netflix.