Euphoria‘s creator, Sam Levinson, brazenly brings at least two major elements from his acclaimed HBO series to his new film, Malcolm & Marie. First, he extends the admiration towards his Emmy-winning front woman, Zendaya, for another provocative role in a clash against John David Washington. Additionally, he also brings along the series style-over-substance tendencies and injects it into this exhausting relationship friction.
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What Levinson attempts to replicate is the intensity and intimacy of Euphoria’s special episodes (Trouble Don’t Last Always and F*ck Anyone Who’s Not A Sea Blob), exercising troubled human souls by the means of dialogues. And yet, Malcolm & Marie just loves to jump into a series of endless arguments, kisses-and-make-ups, and blame throwing fest. The cycle repeats itself over the course of, ridiculously, one night—where all suppressed problems seem to just snap off and flood the narrative abundantly. By the time the cycle repeats for the first time, you’ll realize that it’s still a long journey ahead.
Washington is Malcolm, a rising Black director who just had his Euphoria-inspired film premiered. Zendaya is Marie, the girlfriend whose life—along with the history of addiction and abuse—is what inspires Malcolm’s film. Intensity is the way they communicate to each other and, in no time, the intensity breaks into a series of screaming and shouting at each other. The culprit seems to be simple yet crucial: Malcolm is an ungrateful man. He barely knows how to thank Marie for whatever she’s done—from cooking him mac ‘n’ cheese to inspiring his dearest film with the hurtful memory of her all-time-low. Their arguments are presented in monochrome manifesting their respective stance in the fight; everything has to be either black or white in their defense. Marcell Rév’s camera tracks the couple and stages them in their contriving war of words set in a claustrophobic, contemporary designed house—suggesting how suffocating their relationship despite the beautiful intensity they often showcase.
Zendaya and Washington injects the film with non-stop ferocities that feels feral albeit sounding witty. Raw intensity that the both leads carry on screen is undoubtedly blazing and the chemistry is captivating at the same time. However, have you ever imagined a dialogue-driven drama so self-indulgent that it boasts the director’s vision more than the characters’ emotion? Levinson seems to be overly eager to use this romantic friction as a mode to elaborate his thesis about filmmaking dilemma. He channels his thoughts through the fellow on-screen filmmaker, Malcolm, as he spits his restlessness of being hassled for the message-less films or becoming the second Barry Jenkins or Spike Lee. At some points, it feels that some of the points are related to the director’s initial collaboration with the leading actress. The transition between interpersonal arguments to the professional and ideological ones seems artificial—contriving in sense and dynamics. The audacity to be hiding behind the integrity of a Black filmmaker to convey Levinson‘s thesis is possibly the final nail in the coffin, burying the stunning performance deep.