Movie Review: Malcolm and Marie8th February 2021
As a catalyst, film can be utilised in many ways. Ever-shifting tones of passion and emotion pour out onto the screen. It is why audiences love film. A connection to the characters, and, by extension, the message or theme the film intends to present. Malcolm & Marie is an uphill struggle. There are pockets of potentially interesting moments that are scuppered entirely by a director who wishes to fight his detractors without opposition. It is a sad shame, then, that Levinson’s potential here barely scratches the surface of what could have been. A glossy, feature-length advertisement for shaming those that may not adapt or engage with a creative mind on the same theoretical level as the director. Perhaps I have missed the point entirely and immediately, for Malcolm & Marie felt like a baby throwing their toys from the pram, an attack on the general push and shove of film criticism, and what happens when a director doesn’t get their own way. A feature-length adaptation of that bit in Birdman where Riggan Thomson lashes out against an arts critic.
Adapting the common tropes of the wannabe, independent creative, Levinson utilises all the expected tracking shots and fly-on-the-wall introductions to two characters who have no depth beyond the few poor themes Levinson wishes to employ. It is hard to care for characters who are clear representations of someone else’s shoddy, infantile complaints, especially here, where Levinson’s anger toward criticism and a lack of success reign supreme. This is not a film that handles its messages well, and when Levinson attempts to assert himself on a culture he does not and never will belong to, Malcolm & Marie stumbles into layers of strange, disconnected moments. Hypocritical it may be for me to comment on, but at least, unlike Levinson, I am comfortable with criticism and with my background. Levinson circles the efforts of John David Washington and Zendaya with all the grace of a shark sniffing for blood. A predator on the lookout for a lapse in judgement or gap in the defence, who will eventually attempt to slither his way into their Hollywood charms, and will hold them up as his only example of acceptance.
Surely Washington and Zendaya have some chemistry with one another, but here it doesn’t feel like they do. No fault of their own, they are two talented stars that will go on to make bigger and better projects, it is just a shame that they must wield the ineffective, blunt moments Levinson looks to adapt. He is guilty of the same discourse he issues at the critics he denounces and condemns; he just doesn’t have the guts to do it without utilising the tropes that appeal to the new era of cinema or the popularity of his stars. Forget about the performances, the stylish gluttony of the cinematography and the less-than-stellar camera work, and remember that this is a feeble response to critics who gave Assassination Nation a shrug of the shoulders, rather than the embrace Levinson believed it deserved.
Levinson utilises Malcolm & Marie as a sickening display of his own self-worth. His problems inflict and infect the script, which is another swollen, congested effect of the faux righteousness this director possesses. With no reason to love or even engage with the characters or the craft, Malcolm & Marie uses its black and white cinematography as a shield for the weak message and misrepresentation of arts criticism and creatively bankrupt directors to hide behind. Levinson clings to this for the whole feature, unable to show himself from behind this wall of cover. He has cultivated a small echo chamber, utilising his two leads as mouthpieces for his own, unnecessarily problematic misgivings and musings. The problem is not with the critic, it is with the creative. Or lack thereof in the case of Malcolm & Marie.