With theatres closed due to COVID-19 and sets struggling to meet social distancing requirements, Hollywood has had to find new ways to tell its stories on screen. From Zoom-based horror Host to Anne Hathaway’s straight-to-streaming pandemic thriller, a slew of recent movies has made ‘lockdown cinema’ the fastest growing film genre. Malcolm & Marie, Netflix‘s first go at the format, might be the best entry yet.
Shot entirely in one – admittedly sprawling – apartment in Carmel, California, the black-and-white drama used a skeleton crew to avoid spreading coronavirus. But despite its stripped back team, the cast list boasts an embarrassment of riches. John David Washington (Tenet) plays Malcolm, a rising filmmaker who has just shown his magnum opus to critics for the first time. Together with girlfriend Marie (Zendaya), he returns home from the premiere in good spirits – but (after a steaming hot bowl of mac and cheese) an argument soon breaks out and spoils the mood. Marie, whose life Malcolm’s film is based on, is upset that she wasn’t mentioned in his speech that night. A petty gripe, at first glance, but nearly two hours of vicious fighting later and it’s clear Marie’s annoyance is rooted in something more complicated.
Many couples will see bits of themselves (or, more likely, their partners) in Malcolm and Marie. He’s a snappily-dressed alpha who is plagued by self-doubt and an enormous ego. She, a glamorous model and actress, insists he is ignoring her feelings – but in the next sentence dismisses his. Both believes the other is being irrational, selfish or deluded – and they say some cruel things while trying to prove it. At a time when many viewers will have spent weeks quarantined with their other halves, it’s likely some awkward looks will be exchanged across the sofa.
Despite the enforced relationship therapy, there’s still a lot of fun to be had here. Washington and Zendaya share electric chemistry and Sam Levinson’s (Euphoria) sharp script gives them plenty of barbed insults to hurl at each other. When news of the film first hit Twitter, some balked at the duo’s 12-year age gap – but even if you take issue with the casting, it’s difficult to argue they aren’t a believable item.
If there is any criticism to level at Levinson’s gripping romance, it’s that these characters – a young artist whose critics don’t understand him; and his emotionally damaged muse – are slightly cliched. Luckily, he does enough with the slowly unspooling backstory that Malcolm and Marie feel unique enough by the bittersweet ending.
Let this be a warning to any new lovers out there: here is a movie that may uncover some ugly truths about your recently acquired beau. Washington and Zendaya have several glittering bathrooms and a huge garden to escape to after their bust-ups. If lockdown loneliness has rushed you into sharing a one-room flat with nice-but-dim Jeff from accounts, you might want to give it a miss.
- Director: Sam Levinson
- Starring: Zendaya, John David Washington
- Release date: February 5 (Netflix)