Malcolm and Marie. What can I say about this quarrelsome pair? Well, I’ve already said it. Quarrelsome. But let me start from the beginning.
Scene 1. The cinematography gives the look of a two-person dramatic play. The colors are drab even though the actors in front of us are striking. A tired couple comes home from a glamorous, well attended Hollywood film awards show. The conversation between the couple reveals to the viewer that Malcolm was awarded a coveted honor for his recent film. I’m intrigued. A movie about a Black filmmaker, I’m all in.
The couple, Malcolm and Marie talk but there’s something that isn’t being said. There’s tension. Malcolm goes on and on, ranting about some film critic or another who doesn’t know films. He’s upset. Even though he’s just been honored. He mentions an L.A. Times writer. He also throws out names of great filmmakers. Spike Lee and others. Oh, he’s one of those.
I get the sense that Malcolm is very arrogant. He’s young, well probably under 40. Lives in a really nice house. Has been honored for his art and has a beautiful young girlfriend. Well, younger girlfriend. Much younger.
Twenty five minutes into watching the film, I get a sense that Marie is depressed and uneasy. There’s something she’s not saying. She doesn’t seem “happy” for Malcolm’s honor. And then while she makes macaroni and cheese out of the box, in the kitchen, still wearing her gown from the night, she asks him (or tells him), “Why didn’t you thank me?! You forgot me!”
Marie is Pissed with a capital P. She can’t stand to even listen to Malcolm rant about what he should’ve gotten or what others don’t get about his work. While he is solely focused on himself in these moments after receiving his award, Marie is focused on his acceptance speech. He didn’t thank her.
She begins to pace, argue, yell, and insult him because he thanked one hundred people. I can’t even remember them all. But it seems he thanked his 3rd grade teacher, the mail man, his suit tailor, ex-girlfriends, old roommates — well you get the picture. Malcolm thanked everyone in his acceptance speech for his outstanding filmmaking award, except his live-in girlfriend.
I think, humph that’s not good. But I’m not really moved. Well as the film goes on, Marie lets us and Malcolm know why he royally effed up that night. The kicker. Malcolm’s film was about her. That’s right. He wrote a film on his girlfriend’s life. Her struggles as a drug addict. Her struggles in general. Just when I think Malcolm is a sexist, narcissist, tool who took advantage of a young girls’ vulnerability to use her as his muse and sexual playmate — Marie shows us she’s not the passive girlfriend we thought she was.
Marie criticizes Malcolm and belittles him for being a substandard, weak man, and mediocre filmmaker. She makes fun of him in every possible way and basically tells him she’s the reason for his current success. She tells him he’s talentless and not from the impoverished hood that all of the film critics think he’s from. She also digs him again by asserting that the only reason he has been given such high praise is that the film industry thinks he was an underprivileged Black youth who struggled to make it into film. Not so. Marie reveals that Malcolm is from an upper-class family and that while writing his films. He lived quite comfortably over the years. This is a huge contrast to the struggling artist concept that most people have of writers and filmmakers who are on the rise. Marie throws in Malcolm’s face, that he never struggled a day in his life, and therefore doesn’t deserve the honors. Ouch.
By now, I’m slowly eating my popcorn and I’ve leaned in. And that’s while also braiding my hair Beyonce “Lemondade” style. It’s clear that Malcolm and Marie’s main love language is argument. It’s the sixth one. I made it up, but it’s so fitting for them.
Malcolm begins to cut Marie with deep jabs. Not physically, but verbally. He tells her that he basically saved her. That she was a drugged out pill head. That he has always taken good care of her and therefore she shouldn’t complain. He also tells her that she enjoys being abused and that she is weak. Wow.
The level of toxicity doesn’t stop. And I swear, Malcolm never takes his suit off. He paces around the house while he and Marie argue. He lays himself out like a pouty child on the floor and on furniture while Marie rips him. And he keeps his shoes on, like in his own house.
The film becomes really exaggerated and over the top with Malcolm and Marie’s toxic interactions. Marie crawls into the living room, carrying a knife as if she’s going to stab him. She’s acting while acting. If I wasn’t so focused on watching a movie while braiding my hair, I would have turned it off at this scene. I didn’t want to see this couple, this Black couple physically hurt each other.
I’m further reminded of how toxic this couple is when Malcolm says they should get married, right in the middle of arguing. He tells Marie he’s turned on by her argument tactics. I roll my eyes, now feeling very annoyed.
Without spilling every detail, I found that Malcolm and Marie both have their grievances. She feels unappreciated and so does he. You see that they are in a hypergamous relationship: the man provides money and a comfortable lifestyle , the woman provides femininity and sex. And he’s older. He’s not old enough to be her daddy, but the age gap as well as the class gap is noticeable. I start to feel like Malcolm is reaping more of the benefit because of Marie’s youth, emotional instability, and past issues with drug use. But Marie is also not coddling Malcolm to the point where he can stay comfortable in his arrogance. And he is very arrogant.
These two can’t even have a loving moment. No intimacy because Marie can’t let it go that Malcolm didn’t thank her during his acceptance speech. It’s a metaphor for their relationship. He’s accomplished, she’s not. He’s privileged, she’s not. He calls all of the shots, she doesn’t. But Marie does get to tell him about himself without him cursing her clean out or physically abusing her. Is that his saving grace? Their saving grace? It’s bad when you start to say, “Well at least it’s not THAT toxic.” Really bad.
The only enjoyable part was seeing these two beautiful actors on stage. They are both pretty: Zendaya and John David Washington. But the black and white and gray film aesthetic, with the couple in basically one room the entire time arguing until they are physically exhausted made the film a waste of time for the viewer. Like this is what they chose to do with two talented, beautiful Black actors? Make them scream and threaten each other ad nauseam?
Thanks for employing them but please give us more Black love stories where the actors, a couple, aren’t threatening to cut each other or knock each others’ heads off. We already got that with the Ike and Tina story. No disrespect to Tina. I’m very thankful she’s well and safe now. But the domestic abuse theme is played and stereotypical, especially for a marginalized group that has not historically received the luxury of seeing our love stories depict healthy relationships, absent of multiple levels of struggle and strife. Why is Black love always synonymous with struggle? Why can’t we have more films that depict love that is not wrapped up in abuse — emotional, verbal or physical, financial struggle, civil rights issues, pimp-ho lifestyles, gang life, or single, struggling parenthood? Ahhh, we’ll be here all day discussing this.
So that’s my rant on that.
Did you watch “Malcolm & Marie” on Netflix? What did you think? Comment below or tweet me @duewafrazier1. Visit my website at www.duewaworld.com