[Screen It]


(2020) (John David Washington, Zendaya) (R)

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Drama: After returning home from the premiere of his latest film, a director and his model-actress girlfriend get into a fight, air their grievances toward each other, and find their relationship tested.

It's 1 a.m. and filmmaker Malcolm (JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON) and his model-actress girlfriend Marie (ZENDAYA) have just returned from the premiere of his latest and well-received film. He still wants to celebrate but she's had enough, still peeved that he didn't publicly thank her for the direct inspiration for the movie. That leads to a verbal fight between the two and both end up airing their grievances and expressing how they truly feel about each other and their relationship.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

When it comes to dealing with others, I'm not a confrontational sort of person. Sure, if someone does me or others wrong in a major way, I'll say something and intervene. But as a general rule of thumb, I don't like drama in my marriage or my relationship with family and friends.

And certainly not with strangers, what with all the nut-jobs out there nowadays who seem to enjoy escalating minor things into major events. All of which makes me wonder that if they act that way in public with those they don't know, how do they act in private with those they do? I'm guessing toxic people are likely 'round-the-clock offenders as they seem to feed off or at least enjoy adversarial conditions.

But some seem to like or at least tolerate toxic relationships, the kind usually most associated with women being attracted to "bad boy" types who can show them love but can also turn on them on a dime.

If you're drawn to that sort of drama, then you might really dig "Malcolm & Marie," a well-made, slickly written, and expertly performed film about such a couple. In it, John David Washington and Zendaya appear as the lone two characters, him playing a filmmaker and her his model-actress girlfriend.

They've just returned to their Malibu home from the well-received premiere of his latest film and he's still buzzing from the high of the event. Conversely, she's tired, wants to make some quick mac 'n cheese, kick off her heels, and go to bed. He senses something is bugging her and she advises nothing good will come of them discussing it at 1 a.m.

But he eggs her on and thus begins an ever-escalating battle of "what I do and don't like about you and our relationship" where the moments of love and tenderness quickly escalate into progressively harder volleys of perspective across the net.

As written and directed by Sam Levinson, the offering -- shot in raw-feeling black and white during the pandemic lockdown and mostly taking place inside the home notwithstanding a few moments directly outside it -- is structured, feels, and definitely sounds like a stage play. The up and down, each side gets equal time to refute and attack occasionally feels a bit forced and artificial, and will have most viewers anticipating the subsequent upcoming sudden changes in which character has the mic, so to speak.

But beyond that and an over-reliance on profanity (nearly 300 "f" words) in place of more imaginative writing (although I realize people curse a lot in the heat of the moment), the offering is decent if uncomfortable at times to endure.

Despite the pared-down setting, the filmmaker keeps things interesting from a visual level, his script touches on both the familiar (various aspects of romantic relationships, etc.) and the more esoteric (how white film critics analyze the works of black filmmakers, etc.), and the performances feel authentically raw and charged.

I imagine the film should earn some award love come nomination time, especially for Washington and Zendaya's strong performances. While it obviously won't appeal to all viewers -- especially those who don't like emotional abuse and related confrontation -- I found "Malcolm & Marie" to be a compelling look at hot/cold toxic relationships. It rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed February 1, 2021 / Posted February 5, 2021

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