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Film / Malcolm & Marie

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Malcolm: You know I made a mistake, so why turn it into something more?
Marie: Because it is more. [...] It's our entire fucking relationship in a nutshell.

Malcolm & Marie is a 2021 romantic drama film written, directed and co-produced by Sam Levinson, starring Zendaya and John David Washington.

The film follows cocky, up-and-coming filmmaker Malcolm (Washington) and his morose younger girlfriend Marie (Zendaya), who have just returned home from a promising movie premiere. While Malcolm is buzzing in anticipation of the critics' reviews, he finds that Marie is upset that he did not thank or acknowledge her at the premiere. This paves the way for an at-length discussion of Malcolm's film and the filmmaking industry at large between the two, and as it heats up, long-held tensions and revelations begin to boil over and threaten their relationship.

Malcolm & Marie is notably the first Hollywood feature written, financed and produced entirely during the COVID-19 Pandemic, with filming occurring in secret during the start of summer 2020. As a result, it largely takes place in or around a single location (the couple's home) and only focuses on its two leads.

The film got a limited release on January 29, 2021, and was released on Netflix a week later.

Tropes in this film:

  • Age-Gap Romance: Malcolm is older than Marie. They met when she was 20 and he was implied to be in his late 20s or early 30s. This factors into the imbalance in their relationship, as Marie's being younger contributes to how superfluous and used she feels. The actors portraying them share an age gap of 12 years.
  • All Take and No Give: Both leads claim they're contributing more to this relationship than the other.
    • Marie says she substantially supports Malcolm in his career, both practically and creatively, and doesn't even get so much as acknowledgement in return. Malcolm says this isn't selfless on Marie's part, nor even what he wants — Marie over-invests in his life and has few activities of her own, and he wishes she were more independent and stable.
    • Malcolm says he supported Marie through the messy process of her getting sober, and forgave her for cheating on him once. Marie says this wasn't a selfless act of Malcolm — she was interesting material for a story, and that kept him around more than love did.
  • Building of Adventure: The whole film takes place in the fancy Malibu house the studio put the main couple up in. Enforced, since the COVID-19 pandemic meant that travel was forbidden at the time.
  • Compliment Backfire: Midway through the film, the first review of Malcolm's film comes in, and it's positive. The problem Malcolm finds is that it was written by a white female critic that he described early on in the film as being incredibly insincere, praising him as a black man and not as a filmmaker. He points out that she calls him the next Spike Lee, Barry Jenkins, or John Singleton, and when he asks, "What about the next William Wyler?", her response is "Was William Wyler black?" As for the review itself, he's incensed that she spends most of it talking about race, when he insists the movie isn't about race at all but about trying to get clean and sober, and is especially offended by her claim that the white doctor in the film avoids being made into a white savior.
    Malcolm: "Avoids being a white savior"!? She is a savior, she's trying to save her! Avoided the white savior trap? If I were white, they'd say I fell into the trap! [...]
    Marie: So this is what you're like with a positive review?
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Inverted. Marie says Malcolm is the least jealous man she's ever dated, and this bothers her. She feels he takes her for granted, and that one expression of this is how he's not at all concerned about losing her. She later theorizes that he's not jealous because he's such an egomaniac, he can't imagine Marie thinking any other guy is better than him.
    Marie: It also makes me realize, the reason you don't get jealous […] — the reason why you never wonder if you're the best fuck I've ever had, or the most talented person I've ever been with, or the kindest, or the smartest — it's because it is inconceivable to you that there is anybody on this planet that is more interesting than you are.
  • invokedCreator Couple: At some point early on, there was some plan for Marie to play the protagonist of Malcolm's film, a struggling drug addict named Imani, and then it didn't happen. Malcolm says he dropped the idea because Marie seemed reluctant. Marie says she seemed reluctant because she thought Malcolm didn't want her involved. Malcolm says Marie self-sabotaged. Marie says Malcolm was too self-centered to share it.
    Marie: When you first wrote it, you wrote it for me. So why didn't you cast me? […] At some point, Malcolm, this was something that we were gonna do together. And I don't know when that changed.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The film was made in 2020 and is entirely black and white.
  • The Ghost: Malcolm and Marie are the only characters we see on screen. Other people who are repeatedly brought up are:
    • Taylor, the actress who played the starring role of Imani in Malcolm's film. Marie has an Always Someone Better complex around her.
    • "The white girl from the LA Times," a film critic who Malcolm loathes and is also kind of obsessed with, bordering on Sitcom Arch-Nemesis.
  • Has a Type: Marie is apparently only the latest in a whole string of broken girls — not uncommonly addicts — who Malcolm has been with. His character Imani is a conglomeration of all of them. While he claims he wants Marie to improve herself, get healthier and more independent, the fact that he's been consistently drawn to damaged women throws some doubt over whether he'd be happy if she actually did.
  • His Own Worst Enemy: Malcolm says Marie has an inclination toward self-sabotage and welcoming being treated badly. He frames this as Marie's Fatal Flaw. The fact that she's in a relationship where Malcolm treats her like this is strong evidence for it being true.
    Malcolm: You may have gotten clean, but you still haven't figured this part out. Why you love being hurt, traumatized and fucking eviscerated? It's not normal, it's not healthy, and it permeates every aspect of our relationship.
  • Hypocrite: Malcolm repeatedly rails about how his race is interpreted in the film industry, but — as Marie keeps pointing out — it's not like he's doesn't participate in it.
    • He gripes about the white, woke, university-based media-studies types who he's anticipating reviewing his work — but he himself has a college degree in the arts.
      Malcolm: It annoys me that so many of these journalists can't help but to flex their college education [by trying to frame my film through a political lens].
      Marie: (Beat) Malcolm, you have a college education.
      Malcolm: (Beat) Yeah, but I'm not academic, baby.
    • He complains about his work being viewed as political — but his next film is going to be an overtly political biopic.
      Malcolm: I mean, we get it. You're smart. We get it. You're woke. We get it, we get it. Let us, us artists, have some fucking fun with the shit. Let us have fun with the art.
      Marie: (Beat) Malcolm, you're writing the Angela Davis biopic right now.
      Malcolm: (Beat) Yeah, but that's different. That's different.
    • He complains about being viewed as a "black director", but according to Marie, he somewhat brands himself as such. He lets — or perhaps even leads — people in the industry to assume he's been affected by the sorts of disadvantages that disproportionately affect black people, even though he's actually from a stable, privileged background.
      Marie: You have two parents, no bad habits other than being a fucking prick, and a college education. Your mother is a therapist. Your father is a professor. Your sister works for a think tank in D.C. But out here, on these streets, these smiling fucking rich people, they think you know what it's like to scrap, think you fucking lived it. Give me a break. You're more privileged than the white girl who works for the LA Times, who thinks she's doing a public service by lifting up your mediocre ass.
  • Jerkass: As can be expected from a movie that's basically one long argument, both Malcolm and Marie act rather nasty towards each other.
  • Male Gaze: Discussed. In the first review of Malcolm's movie, the female film critic criticizes a scene that features the lead actress topless. Marie brings it up later, implying she agrees in part. Malcolm says it wasn't even his idea, but rather a invokedThrow It In! creative decision made by the actress playing the role.
    Marie: Look, it just made everything more graphic, okay? And I just thought… would the scene have been a bit different if you were a woman?
    Malcolm: Yes. But I also would have shot the entire movie differently because I wouldn't have been me, I would've been a woman. I would've had a totally different sensibility.
  • The Man Is Sticking It to the Man:
    Marie: You are a filmmaker, and filmmaking is the most capitalistic, mainstream fucking art form on the planet Earth. No matter how many times Taylor told E! News that she was a fucking communist.
    Malcolm: She might've talked about the redistribution of wealth, lack of social programs…
    Marie: While selling a film? For $15 a ticket? […] You got an actress in a $2,000 dress, talkin' about socialism on a red carpet because she's too afraid to admit that — guess what — she's just a fuckin' actor.
  • Minimalist Cast: Malcolm and Marie are the only onscreen characters.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: It's a film about a filmmaker.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Marie spends the first half of the movie wearing a dress with a huge cutout over the stomach. Then she takes a bath and dresses for bed, and for the latter half of the film, she's wearing underwear and a white tank top with her breasts pretty visible through the shirt. Lampshaded when Malcolm says that — since This Is Reality — Marie being partly undressed in her own home late at night is unremarkable, but if this were a movie, it would suddenly be described as the director sexualizing the character.
    Marie: I just never thought that you'd shoot [that scene in your movie] with her top off.
    Malcolm: What's the difference?
    Marie: Her tits were out.
    Malcolm: So?
    Marie: So, I just feel like you sexualized her.
    Malcolm: Marie, if I rolled a camera on you right now, am I sexualizing you? Or is this what you happen to have on on a Friday night?
  • The Muse: Deconstructed. Marie is Malcolm's muse, but she feels alienated from his work and hurt by how he uses her life story.
    Marie: It's not just about you forgetting to thank me, Malcolm. It's about how you see me. And how you view my contribution, not just to this relationship, but to your work. Specifically in a movie you made about my life.
  • Name and Name: The film is titled Malcolm & Marie after its only characters.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted. At one point, the couple finally stops fighting and starts making out. Malcolm has to stop for a moment to go pee. While he's gone, Marie's mind drifts back to their fight, and by the time he gets back, she's in a different mood and ready to fight some more.
  • Oscar Bait: A film made by a rising filmmaker starring two new, major stars, shot in black and white and devoting quite a bit of its runtime to giving the leads showy monologues.
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: An Informed Attribute, since we only see Malcolm in his relationship with Marie, but — according to her — he is very accommodating in his professional life.
    Malcolm: It's my job to make [my lead actress] feel comfortable, Marie.
    Marie: What I'm saying is you spend your entire life catering to the feelings and the whims of literally everyone but me. Agents, producers, crew members, actors…
  • Real Time: Their fight begins at 1 AM, and lasts about 1 hour and 40 minutes of screen time before they finally go to bed. After they sleep, we get the only elapsed time in the film, ending with a brief final scene of them in the yard at dawn.
  • Recovered Addict: Marie used to be a drug addict but is now clean.
  • Shout-Out: Malcolm really liked The LEGO Movie.
  • Snub by Omission: Malcolm forgot to thank his girlfriend Marie during his speech, which hurt her feelings as (a) he thanked a long list of other people, and (b) she believes herself to be the central inspiration for his film.
    Marie: You thanked 112 fucking people tonight. You thanked your mother, your gaffer, your agents, your third grade teacher, the usher who worked at the theater when you were 12 and saw whatever the fuck.
  • Underappreciated Women's Work: Their grievances are focused mostly on their creative careers, but at the end, Marie gives a long monologue of the things that her boyfriend Malcolm ought to thank her for—but hasn't—and many of them are household-based caretaking things.
    Marie: Thank you for dumb shit, like buying toilet paper and milk and organizing the shit with the movers. Thank you. Thank you for doing the shit I don't wanna think about. Thank you for making me coffee in the morning. [...] Thank you for doing the laundry, and picking out my suit tonight, and making my ungrateful ass some mac and cheese after I forgot to fuckin' thank you.
  • The Unfair Sex: Both Malcolm and Marie are flawed people. Malcolm is an egomaniac, and Marie is willingly with this guy, demonstrating a masochistic or self-sabotaging tendency. Malcolm's central flaw is outward and impacts those around him, while Marie's is inward and impacts mostly just herself. Thus, Malcolm comes off as worse.
  • Write What You Know: In-Universe, Malcolm's film about a young female drug addict trying to get clean draws strongly from his girlfriend Marie's story (among others), and she's upset with him for not involving her as much as he could have or crediting her properly afterwards.
  • You Are a Credit to Your Race: This is how Malcolm views a positive review for his film from a white critic: he's a contributor to black cinema. He is offended by the notion that he can't make art without it being connected to his blackness.