Malcolm & Marie is a 2021 American black-and-white romantic drama film written, produced and directed by Sam Levinson. The film stars Zendaya and John David Washington (who both also produced), and follows a writer-director and his girlfriend whose relationship is tested on the night of his latest film’s premiere, when revelations about themselves surface. The project was the first Hollywood feature to be entirely written, financed, and produced during the COVID-19 pandemic, with filming taking place in secret in June and July 2020. American recording artist Kid Cudi serves as an executive producer on the film.
Malcolm & Marie received a limited release on January 29, 2021, before being released digitally on February 5, 2021, by Netflix. The film received mixed reviews from critics, who praised Zendaya and Washington’s performances and chemistry and Levinson’s direction, but criticized his screenplay. For her performance, Zendaya was nominated for Best Actress at the 26th Critics’ Choice Awards
Writer-director Malcolm Elliott (John David Washington) returns home from his film premiere with his girlfriend Marie Jones (Zendaya). Malcolm eagerly anticipates the critical reviews following the emotional audience response from the screening. When he notices Marie looking displeased, he urges her to tell him what is bothering her. Initially reluctant to start a fight in the middle of the night, she tells him that she is upset that she was not thanked or acknowledged in his speech at the premiere.
Marie believes that she is the basis of his film, a drama about a struggling black female drug addict named Imani, as she herself was a drug addict when they met. Malcolm dismisses her accusations, claiming that Imani is not based on her and is an amalgamation of different people. Marie insists that he would not have authentically portrayed Imani’s struggles with drug abuse and addiction if they were not together. Malcolm believes that Marie is overreacting, claiming that, because she quit acting years ago, she is jealous of the actress who played Imani and that she is projecting her personal problems on him and his film. Marie affirms her position on his lack of acknowledgment and calls his talents “mediocre”. While Marie is taking a bath, Malcolm describes to her the different women he had relationships with, who inspired the character of Imani, stating that only Imani’s feelings of hopelessness were based on Marie.
Later, Malcolm finds and reads the first critic review posted about his film. Despite the review being positive, he rants about the white female critic’s political interpretation of his film as he did not intend it to be political. He laments that film critics are focusing too much on his black male identity and projecting politics into their interpretations, rather than judging him for his own merits. Marie playfully belittles his angry reaction to the positive review and his inability to take criticism, before the two appear to be bonding again following their arguments.
Before the two can begin to have sex, Marie provokes him when she asks why he did not cast her as Imani, believing that she would have brought a vulnerability and authenticity to the character that could have made the film better. After they angrily accuse each other of being egotistical, Marie then brings out a knife and acts out a scene as Imani to demonstrate authenticity, scaring but impressing Malcolm over how convincing she is. The two go to their bedroom and argue once more, until Marie lectures him about him taking her for granted and his lack of acknowledgement of how their genuine love for each other inspired the film.
Their arguing finally stops as they go to bed without saying anything to each other, only thanking each other before they sleep. Malcolm wakes up alone in bed in the morning daylight. He finds Marie alone outside and joins her as they look across the distance, leaving the fate of their relationship unknown.
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