Parents' Guide to

Malcolm & Marie

By Jennifer Green, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 17+

Stellar performances in drama with sex, swearing, drugs.

Movie R 2021 106 minutes
Malcolm & Marie Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 17+

Based on 4 parent reviews

age 17+

A pandemic film with A LOT of talking

Hmmm...this film definitely has its moments where it excels and others where it falls a bit flat...it is definitely very verbose. The conversations feel a bit stilted at times, a bit like a clunky play. There is good chemistry between the lead actors, the but many transitions feel a bit forced...still, the some of the conversations feel interesting, others less so and what Levinson has to say about critics...just wow...frickin went for it...gloves off and everything.
age 18+

21st Century Love Story

Malcolm and Marie review Much has been said, mostly unfavorably, about Levinson’s new cinematic offering. Critics lambasting the 8-minute monologue by Washington’s character Malcolm, as Levinson doing a ventriloquist act, shouting his disdain for film critics; others claiming it didn’t feel genuine and the character’s arguing was repetitive; and the NYT’s, quoting the script when Marie postulates that ‘nothing productive will be said tonight’. Although all the reviews certainly have their valid points, (albeit maybe too contextually), however, for my viewing they’ve missed the idea entirely. The antics about critics, the repetitiveness and their character’s own self involvement are just window dressing, for what is the real core and essence of the film. The title can be your lamplight, so to speak. It is a film about two people in a relationship, the rest; what they do and what they discuss or argue about, isn’t what the film is about. It is a power struggle- its about who is chasing and who is being chased. Essentially all love stories are, at the core, simply a dance of leadership. When one person loses that interest to chase and ‘dominate’ or the chased declines being ‘dominated’, this is when relationships end, or at least in passionate ones. Of course, there are many varieties of partnerships- but Malcolm and Marie are in a passionate, sexually charged one, that is very complex. They are both highly intelligent and psychologically proficient at pushing each other’s buttons-it is secondary that he is a director or that she is a recovering drug addict – all incidental- what matters is how they argue and how the drama plays out between them. The director played an adept hand juxta positioning their characters stance at various point of the film that was at once telling and poignant. Marie (Zendaya) was often framed like a lioness lounging provocatively, sometimes above Malcolm; in most of the scenes, as their characters are picking their way through their power game- she takes the high ground. Even in the beginning of the film, the audience is presented with an upshot of Marie as Malcolm is trying to seduce her with sexual foreplay. She is completely in charge, indifferent- Malcolm is in the dog house- as the direction shows us. The film is framed around her disappointment about Malcolm’s failure to thank her. And he clearly knows, from his expression and body language that he must pay for this digression. We see his acknowledgment of the argument; the pain, the anguish and the time he knows he will have to endure and invest, due to his lack of propriety. Most seasoned writers know, that it is more important to show, than to tell. Here in Malcolm and Marie, Levinson does this beautifully. Even through Marie’s obvious heartache for being cast aside in the accolade department, she is most definitely, in this relationship, the one who is being chased, she is in charge and owns him- hook line and sinker; however, she craftily doesn’t let him get away with it; this is the crux of the film. When the audience thinks, surely, he will end this and order her to leave – he physically comes back for more. He walks back into the room multiple times- seeks her out- tries, unsuccessfully, several times, to seduce her. There is one tour de force scene for Zendaya, that is paramount above the rest, when she shows Malcolm just how authentic she is-the tension was palatable- as was his fear. The end shot where we see Marie (Zendaya) framed on a hill outside a window from their home- Malcolm goes to her- he has bowed to the inevitable, like Muhammad going to the mountain.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (4 ):
Kids say (7 ):

Even with two riveting performances at its core, this dialogue-centered film organized around an arguing couple over the course of one night will either speak to you or not. And that will depend entirely on how interesting you find the two characters, Malcolm and Marie, and their stories and concerns. Their sparring over the course of the film can feel tiresome, and there are moments of real emotional cruelty and name-calling that could turn some viewers off. Yet the script also deftly reveals new layers of information bit by bit, explaining the roots of their rage as well as the contours of their deep mutual devotion. Malcom and Marie are flawed, scarred, and selfish. They're also smart, driven, and in love. As closing lyrics suggest, they're toeing a thin line between love and hate; the tagline deadpans they're "madly in love." In a film stripped down to the core of just two people expressing emotional turmoil, Washington and Zendaya are mesmerizing.

The black-and-white cinematography is meant to convey elegance and sophistication, as is the modernist house, sexy black-tie attire, and stylish cool of the movie's score. It may also carry some symbolism. The Black Malcolm is deeply, at points comically, concerned with the mostly White film critics' reactions to his film. He knows he needs their approval, but he bristles at the guilt-driven, elitist, pedantic, "academic nonsense" they spout. As Marie likes to point out, he's a walking contradiction: He worships "revolutionary" Spike Lee but comes from a privileged, intellectual family. "Not everything I do is political because I'm Black," he shouts, but Marie points out he's working on an Angela Davis biopic. He explodes in a lengthy diatribe about artistic freedom, railing against the boxing-in of filmmakers and their perceived ability or legitimacy to tell stories according only to static identities -- White, Black, male, female, trans, gay, and so on. "Cinema doesn't need to have a message. It needs to have a heart and electricity," he vows. Malcom & Marie has all three.

Movie Details

  • On DVD or streaming: February 5, 2021
  • Cast: John David Washington , Zendaya
  • Director: Sam Levinson
  • Inclusion Information: Black actors, Female actors, Multiracial actors
  • Studio: Netflix
  • Genre: Drama
  • Topics: Arts and Dance
  • Run time: 106 minutes
  • MPAA rating: R
  • MPAA explanation: pervasive language and sexual content
  • Last updated: February 19, 2023

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