Covid-conscious filmmaking is a tricky business. When production of Euphoria‘s second season was halted due to the pandemic, creator Sam Levinson and star Zendaya cooked up a more viable creative outlet: a dialogue driven two-hander film shot with minimal crew but maximal emotion. The result, Malcolm & Marie, is both elevated and let down by this extreme concept.

There’s a simple plot: director Malcolm (John David Washington) and his partner Marie (Zendaya) return from the premiere of Malcolm’s new picture. An argument sparked by Malcolm forgetting to thank Marie in his speech escalates into a high-stakes verbal spar about the nature of filmmaking, critique, inspiration, authenticity and, above all, their fraught relationship. Classic Netflix fare, but the icy, monochromatic visuals and claustrophobic conditions make the viewing experience feel less Marriage Story and more Lighthouse.

It does all get a bit too meta; Levinson essentially splits the filmmaking atom and the outcome is unquestionably explosive but messy. The cycle of argument, monologue, make-up and make-out between the characters starts off exhilarating but becomes exhausting, and extended rants about the film industry seem insightful coming from Malcolm but feel more empty and petulant when you remember he’s just a mouthpiece for Sam, son of Barry, Levinson.

What saves it from meh-dom is the firecracker performances of both Washington and Zendaya; volatile yet nuanced, neither actor ever lets up. It’s a chemistry with constant tension that really cooks, and while some may say it occasionally boils over into overacting, it’s undeniably enthralling.

Its reach frequently exceeds its grasp but Malcolm & Marie is still an impassioned, well-acted, theatrical look into a relationship battered by ego, jealousy and the demands of a relentlessly shallow industry. It also proves that lockdown-friendly films can be made without Tom Cruise yelling at you.



CAST: John David Washington, Zendaya

DIRECTOR: Sam Levinson

WRITER: Sam Levinson

SYNOPSIS: A director and his girlfriend’s relationship is tested after they return home from his movie premiere and await critics’ responses.