Toxic Couple Reveling In Toxicity
Everyone knows a toxic couple that shouldn’t be together. Girls wearing thick layers of make-up to hide purple bruises; mentally abusive women that degrade and beat down men to a shell of what they once were; a good old fashioned verbal punch-up between two people trying to out-shout the other. Whatever the situation, the result is always the same – these two people are not compatible and should not be together.
Malcolm & Marie then feels like a cumulative effort to showcase the absolute worst in two people clearly not meant to be in a relationship. For 100 minutes, Malcolm & Marie plays out like a horrific car crash you can’t take your eyes off. It’s a movie that lets two people take it turns to beat the other down verbally.
Like a bar fight, it’s mildly amusing and a little sadistically entertaining to begin with but when things turn ugly and blood starts flowing, that amusement quickly dissipates into horror and, eventually, disgust. These feelings perfectly encapsulate the range of emotions you’ll feel watching this movie.
Props to filmmaker Sam Levinson for that at least, this film definitely evokes a strong sense of emotion. Unfortunately all of that emotion is eventually drowned out by an air of exhaustion as you’ve had enough and just want it to end. And that’s never a good sign when you feel that way with another hour left to watch.
The thin sliver of plot holding this film together revolves around two unlikable people who become ever-more unlikable the longer the film goes on for. As home truths are revealed and sprinklings of their life, relationship and disastrous evening unfold, you’ll likely find yourself wondering just why these two are even still together.
Malcolm plays a high-and-mighty film director, fresh off a big premiere where he heads home pumped up, spouting out monologues about actors, race, politics, sex and everything in between. Marie listens with quiet contempt, seething with anger that Malcolm didn’t mention her in his acceptance speech. This begins the slippery slope of anarchy that follows, as the pair are whisked away into a whirlwind of venomous discourse.
While poetic and armed with a certain oozing hypnosis, Malcolm & Marie’s dialogue never flows in a way that you feel like two people are arguing. The dialogue these two have never flows naturally. The monologues are so perfect, so pristinely harmonious that when these two do eventually get given the chance to talk over one another, it doesn’t feel natural.
Where are the eye-rolls? The sudden cursed interjections? The uncomfortable shifting of positions? The stuttering and jittery dialogue that struggles to come when you’re so worked up and angry you can’t think straight. None of that is here, instead this feels like two people taking it in turns to politely say their piece before everything eventually crescendos into quiet, thought-provoking reflection before rounds 2, 3 and beyond.
As a 45 minute short, Malcolm & Marie would actually be a nice artsy study on arguments, but when you add another hour on top of that, the film becomes exhausting to watch.
In fact, Malcolm & Marie sometimes comes across like a way to channel the thoughts of Sam Levinson, with a mix of dreams, frustrations and challenging ideals wrapped up into two characters. There’s an entire section here that bashes a white critic working for the LA Times along with a break-down of specific critiques that get the technicality of shots wrong (“pfft, that was a dolly not a Steadicam – IDIOT!”) that feels bitter and personal rather than an amusing, satirical play on actors getting hung up on critical comments.
Props to Zendaya and John David Washington though, both are fantastic in this and act incredibly well. The still shots of their expressions subtly changing with every verbal fist and hammer blow does give some credibility to the material. It’s just a pity that the script they’re given to work with doesn’t flow as well as it should.
Malcolm & Marie is the movie equivalent of a toxic relationship. It’s an exhausting, abusive ordeal that makes you wonder just why you started in the first place. Sure, there’s some highs and a couple of enjoyable moments but when that initial spark ends, all you’re left with are bruises around the eyes and a wave of regret that’s hard to shake.