Marie: Because it is more. [...] It's our entire fucking relationship in a nutshell.
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.
The film was 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 episode:
- Age-Gap Romance: Malcolm is older than Marie is (they met when she was 20 and he was implied to be in his late 20s or early 30s), which factors into the imbalance in their relationship (as being younger contributes to how superfluous and used Marie feels).
- 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 the review 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?
- Deliberately Monochrome: The film was made in 2020 and is entirely black and white.
- Jerkass: As can be expected from a movie that's basically one long argument, both Malcolm and Marie act rather nasty towards each other.
- Minimalist Cast: Malcolm and Marie are the only characters.
- 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.
- 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.
- Recovered Addict: Marie used to be a drug addict but is now clean.
- 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 inspiration for his film.
- Write What You Know: In-Universe, Malcolm's film about a young female drug addict trying to get clean strongly draws 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.