Sophie Henry

Exhausting, tiresome, draining and maybe 10 other words that have the same meaning.

I convinced six friends to watch “Malcolm and Marie” with me on a weekday at midnight and oh god did I regret it. Yes, I was expecting a troubling movie with a whole lot of arguments and philosophical reflections on relationships, but I definitely did not think that we would be taking deep and weary breaths as every scene paved its way to another fight between the two leads. 

“Malcolm and Marie” debuted on Feb. 5 and it has an extraordinary script that features only Zendaya as Marie and John David Washington as Malcolm. Shot in black and white, it takes place at a modern, luxurious house in Los Angeles. The film starts off as the characters come back home from the premiere of Malcolm’s new film. His movie, which Marie claims tells her own story, features a drug addict and her journey through cleansing herself. With “Down & Out in New York City” playing in the background, Malcolm drags on and on about his directorial debut, positive reactions to his film and his concerns about how the critic he calls “the white lady from the LA Times” will end up portraying his movie as political. Marie, on the other hand, stays oblivious as she smokes her cigarette. It is obvious that the two are not on the same wavelength and that a disagreement is inevitable. In reality, the whole movie ends up revolving around this toxic disagreement. 

Though unfortunate, Levinson also managed to drag me back to the peak times of quarantine. Two people stuck in their homes between four walls … Continuous arguing, with one minor disagreement bringing on the next … Going around the house to get some air but somehow unable to move anywhere … Do any of you see any resemblance to a rather recent experience? Well, I do.

I understand the high expectations surrounding new movies that come out amid the pandemic. After everything we have been through over the last year, a new film starring a familiar face sounded astonishing and seemed like a lovely end to obsessively rewatching our favorite shows or hosting movie nights with old classics. But this movie, featuring so many aspects of our quarantined life, just felt like one of those jokes we call too soon.

For a movie set in a single space with only two people, “Malcolm and Marie” tries way too hard to touch upon numerous significant topics. Though the director Sam Levinson says he wanted to spark a conversation with the movie, it feels like he huddled together a bunch of broad subjects without enough depth to actually lead the audience to form tangible conclusions. 

“Malcolm and Marie” includes many valid and reasonable references to race in the filmmaking industry, identity and its reflections on artistic work, ego and self-confidence, authenticity and gratitude in relationships. However, the vague mention of these topics misrepresents and trivializes the gravity of them and makes it so the references stay at a superficial level. The movie falls short on the ability to spark a heated conversation about how and why the director tackles a specific issue in a specific way or how some artistic and casting choices reflect emotional and intellectual pinnacles. In the midst of all such pressing issues, endless arguing and making love, the movie turns out to be bland and somehow predictable. 

Many of the relationship dynamics touched upon in the movie remained surface level. Marie and Malcolm are in a partnership that is beyond the traditional understanding of the word toxic. There is an undeniable sexual tension between the two and, even though their perspectives clash harshly, they are continuously pulled towards each other through this tension. This love/hate energy is neither new nor unseen. We have seen hundreds, perhaps thousands, of scenes where a heated fight ends up bringing the characters closer. It is a psychological phenomena in which letting go of your anger brings about the arousal of a strong passion. However, “Malcolm and Marie” did not reflect this nuanced psychological phenomena because there never was a full letting go of feelings or a resolution after a forceful confrontation. Their pull ended up being rather bizarre and did not contribute to helping them reach a resolve their issues in any way. 

The main conflict in the movie arises from the fact that Malcolm forgets to thank Marie at the premiere while he acknowledges the most minor figures. This inadvertent insult exposes many underlying issues the couple have with each other. When first confronted, Malcolm is rather surprised as he claims that Marie didn’t react when he apologized during the premiere. In the beginning, Marie also denies her discomfort with the lead actress playing her character and a friend commenting on her appearance. Eventually, the topics they initially refrain from talking about come crawling back, causing the argument to grow more heated.

Though “Malcom and Marie” distorts the notion of a healthy argument, it perfectly echoes the reality of many relationships in our current era. Miscommunication and pretence are two of the issues we just can’t manage to move on from. Because we are afraid that we will lose our partner, hurt their ego, or shatter the illusion of our perfect relationship we just do not talk. Sometimes, we only scratch the tip of the iceberg, which gives no sense of resolution or satisfaction and results in an argument dragging on and on. Malcolm forgetting to thank Marie may seem like a trivial detail for some in the audience, but it can also act as a greater metaphor for the value of a partner in a relationship. For some reason, we refuse to see the love, care and sacrifice our partners offer us. More precisely, we are unable to see their value until we almost lose them. We get so used to them being there for us that we consider their presence a constant, something that does not need acknowledgement. 

Ultimately, the issue revolves outside of Malcolm and Marie. Though we resent seeing them defending themselves back and forth at two in the morning, it is what we all do. Life has taught us the principle “defence under any circumstances” and, when it comes to human interaction, we fail to switch back from that high school debate team mindset. Maturity and real love require going into an argument with an open mind and a readiness to listen, understand and discuss. Both Malcolm and Marie defend their very own selves and they wound each other by bringing up insecurities and their lowest moments. 

Relationships in the 21st century often end due to trust issues. We are so scared to open up and show our vulnerability that we prefer leaving a partnership all together. Are we always really wrong being scared? People are not afraid to judge and blame each other at the right time with information shared in confidence. It is not our feelings that we need to work on, because they emerge from valid experiences. Instead, we need to work on the idea and understanding of love, unity and what it means to disagree with a partner. 

It is ironic that even watching Malcolm and Marie argue feels exhausting while deep down they represent nothing more than the realities of our ill-fated games in a relationship. Though the film hints at larger problems, it fails to do so successfully. Within each area they touch upon, there is so much more to unpack and reflect on. It welcomes absolutely compelling acting, but the story feels like it doesn’t tie up loose ends. How can it not tie up loose ends after they have argued for 1 hour and 46 minutes? Well, that’s exactly the problem.

Dilge Buksur | dilge.buksur@yale.edu