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Malcolm & Marie

Malcolm & Marie

I don't know many people who would enjoy a black and white film with a partially diegetic jazz/modern funk soundtrack, and with only two characters, who do nothing but talk for 100 minutes. The fact is, though, that Malcolm &Marie looks and sounds great, and the dialogue is spot-on. This film is a step, or rather a leap, in the right direction for the leads, especially considering their immediately preceding projects (Tenet and Spider-Man: Far from Home).

John David Washington in particular is a revelation. He really blossoms as an actor here, almost literally vibrating with emotion at times, displaying rich oral and body language, and using the space around him, both indoors and out, very effectively. Writer/director Sam Levinson allows him to express, through words and gestures, authentic thoughts, feelings, and ideas, rather than simply waiting around for the next action sequence, as Christopher Nolan had him do in Tenet.

Films as intimate as this one are usually based on plays (and Washington and Zendaya, at their most vitriolic, do remind us of Liz and Richard in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), but this is an original script, written for the screen by Levinson, who proves to be a student of human nature and interpersonal relationships.

For example, Malcolm and Marie keep reminding each other of things they both know very well. If this were exposition, it would be very clumsy. However, this is not done for the benefit of the audience; Levinson knows that when a couple fights, the argument is mostly made up of old recriminations.

Since the cause of the rift between the protagonists is a movie (Malcolm is a director and screenwriter, and Marie is an aspiring actress; the action begins when they return home from the premiere of his latest film, which may or may not be based on them, adding an extra layer of meaning to the events), Malcolm & Marie is doubly educational; not only a study of a relationship in crisis, but also a commentary on the medium of cinema ó on a filmmaker's motives and intentions, and how these can be (mis)interpreted by critics.

But the film is, above all, a public service. Itís now fashionable to talk about toxic people and relationships, but the reality is that all people are toxic if one gives them time and opportunity; the longer a relationship lasts, the staler the air becomes.

This movie is a warning about the danger of submitting to what I call the tyranny of the other's opinion. Everything that one does and says in a relationship has to be said and done based on the other personís needs and desires; otherwise, the result is an endless debate on the same recurring themes, interrupted only by brief peaceful pauses, the price of which is having to walk on the proverbial eggshells, self-redacting our discourse of most words that arenít ' sorry' and 'thank you'.

Why do so many people stay together? In the case of Malcolm and Marie, itís most likely codependency; theyíre both deathly afraid of being alone, and no one else is going to put up with them ó and although there is a Dawn that follows the Crisis, there is no certainty that this hasnít happened before, and no guarantee that it won't happen again; in fact, the sensation that weíre left with is a sort of hellish deja vu. Sartre wrote that Hell is other people. In Malcolm & Marie, Hell is the other person.