Malcolm & Marie is a simple yet intricate depiction of the trials of toxic love

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Marcell Rév (director of photography)

The poster for Zendaya and John David Washington’s newest film, Malcolm & Marie.

In a universe often dulled by the dreary day-to-day, my primary source of color has always been film.

Given a few hours to kill and a monumental movie, I find myself describing it not through the plot but more often through the hues and tones that comprise it. From the sage green beauty of undulating foothills to the crisp cerulean of a vast sea, figurative language is my sure-fire way of placing a film’s aesthetic. 

Yet, this habit of mine was challenged by Malcolm & Marie—Sam Levinson’s newest project that just debuted on Netflix. This entire feature was portrayed through a black and white lens, making it nearly impossible for me to embody it gaudily. Nevertheless, the cast, combined with its direction by a writer I respect, made it an absolute must-watch. 

The movie depicts a singular night within the kinship of Malcolm (John David Washington) and Marie (Zendaya), a filmmaker and his girlfriend arriving back from the premiere of his newest picture. The audience receives a bird’s eye view into a tumultuous crossroads between these two individuals, the clock slowly ticking into the early hours of the morning as they argue and apologize. 

And while the plot was captivating and challenging to turn away from, the cinematography is genuinely what carried this film. 

The sun slowly set as I consumed all 106 minutes of the plot, and I simultaneously became caught up in the bohemian yet noir nature of Malcolm & Marie.”

Certain shots were encapsulating and direct, showing a wide-pan perspective that focused upon the topic. However, others wavered back and forth between the broken characters, these parts lasting minutes at a time and drawing me in entirely. 

Then there were the argumentative scenes, which exhibited a constant switching of viewpoints that purposefully projected the nature of the relationship. There were times when Malcolm was talking and the camera would switch to his partner or vice versa. By doing this, Levinson brought the audience into the moment, making us feel like members of the conflict. 

Furthermore, the audio and soundtrack to this film were marvelous. When the sonorous and ethereal background music was not playing, the only sounds that could be heard were the yelling of our main characters and the chirping of nature behind them. 

The universe that this movie seemed to be taking place in—while present as can be determined by the use of smartphones—practically bent time. The sun slowly set as I consumed all 106 minutes of the plot, and I simultaneously became caught up in the bohemian yet noir nature of Malcolm & Marie. The set design on this project was simply immaculate; the home that the characters were in followed the ebb and flow of the storyline and the plain yet intricate coloring. 

However, most of all, Zendaya and Washington seemingly gave all they had to this performance, making it all the easier to enjoy. While Washington perfectly portrayed his character’s loud and commanding nature, Zendaya faultlessly illustrated her role in a sophisticated and understated style. These two performances melded together perfectly, displaying a masterful and acclaim-worthy production.

Even though I cannot describe it through color, Malcolm & Marie truly fulfilled all of my film criteria. From its perspective on the trials of toxic love to its refreshing yet warm cinematics, this movie is one of those masterpieces that come about once in a blue moon.