There’s a scene in Malcolm & Marie, writer / director Sam Levinson’s new drama in which John David Washington delivers a brutal onscreen verbal abolition of his girlfriend, played by Zendaya while soaking in a bathtub and taking on the abuse. She hardly speaks and yet you sit there with big eyes, stunned by the masterpiece that you are watching.
Zendaya is absolutely phenomenal as Marie as she unleashes a searing, emotional powerhouse of a performance. Levinson, the creator of their hit show euphoria, Zendaya, Washington recruited and a skeleton crew to make this two-character black and white game of a pandemic movie, and it’s quite an acting showcase. While Zendaya is arguably stealing the show, Washington is exactly where it fits her step by step.
Washington, who broke out on Spike Lee BlackKklansman but struggled mightily in Christopher Nolan’s love-it-or-hate-it principleproves that like his father, he is best when allowed to explode. Washington chews up the landscape as it pours hatred left and right, but it is also the movie’s elixir, the energy and the undercurrent.
Even so, the way Zendaya can convey raw, smoldering emotions, often through bright eyes or trembling chins, is extremely powerful. Marie can be as wild and reckless as Malcolm, but she is the emotional core.
Levinson did a beautiful little drama that looks amazing and does a lot to a little. He was beaten up for using the film as a shop window to tear apart film critics – which he channels about Malcolm, a filmmaker – and while admittedly thinking too long about his anti-critic diatribes, it took critics to get through all of that hurt him and this film far too seriously.
Because regardless of the small details, Malcolm & Marie is a great piece of tight filmmaking, full of sharp dialogue and penetrating acting.
Rating by Erik Samdahl, unless otherwise stated.