While most of us spent last year’s lockdowns watching telly, raiding the fridge and doomscrolling, Sam Levinson teamed up with his lead from HBO drama Euphoria, Zendaya, and Tenet’s John David Washington to self-finance a black-and-white two-hander set in one house over a few hours: Malcolm & Marie.
Shot in gleaming 35mm, the film is, essentially, one big argument, as film director Malcolm (Washington) and his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya) return home from the premiere of his debut movie and get into one. It starts because he forgot to thank her in his speech; but then ebbs and flow and digresses and sharply refocuses and heats and cools and heats once more as their entire five-year relationship comes under scrutiny.
You’ll need to take a deep breath before watching; this is a one-on-one so astute and scathing as to be comparable to the emotionally brutal domestic dramas of Cassavetes, Fassbinder and Bergman (or, to use a more recent example, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story).
Malcolm & Marie also makes meta with its observations on filmmaking and film criticism. That’s a lot to argue about, but Levinson, who wrote the script in six days, has still more to say, giving his terrific actors some fearless musings on race, gender, and class. There are also a few glimmers of tenderness along the way. Malcolm & Marie is a film of the moment, powered by Covid, BLM and #MeToo – but good enough to stand the test of time.