At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Malcolm & Marie “2021”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Romantic Drama/ Stars: John David Washington, Zendaya/ Runtime: 106 minutes

I think it is safe to say that whenever a person, regardless of choice of medium, chooses to regale us with a narrative that is in equal parts riveting and engaging, having said story be complex is entirely up to them. Oh make no mistake complexity can be quite the useful item to utilize and utilizing it properly can allow for delightful amounts of creativity to come forth, but at the same time it is not always necessary to have. Rather, the main components that make every truly great story work are the characters that are involved and some kind of conflict that they face since by molding those two items together is how you get the tale you are telling in the first place. Yet whilst by and large a lot of the slices of cinematic pie that we are treated to year after year obviously go beyond the simple basics and choose to also take advantage of a lot of other items that are exclusive to film as a work of art, it still is a wonderful delight every now and then to get a slice of cinematic pie like Malcolm And Marie that makes the bold decision to just operate with the basics and in the process potentially showcase a drama that is more potent and full of heart than a lot of similar slices of cinematic pie just like it. Indeed made just when the COVID pandemic was starting to get nasty, this is a film that was seemingly conjured up due to both a requirement for operating at the minimum possible for the production to be medically safe and from a turmoil-stricken pathos at that point in time. As a result, what we have managed to get from that is a riveting and taut drama that also manages to operate as a terrific showcase for its pair of stars in Zendaya and John David Washington. Yes it may be a bit too long for its own good and yes from a structure point it is not as clear as one would like, but it can’t be denied that Malcolm and Marie at the end of the day does keep its falcon-like talons hooked into you courtesy of both the riveting performances given as well as the core relationship in the film being in such a state of electrifying flux due to the secrets revealed and the bitter squabbles that are had.

The plot is as follows: Operating in only a singular location, this slice of cinematic pie starts out as we see a couple by the name of (what else) Malcolm and Marie come home to their luxury home in Malibu following a film premiere that has been quite riveting. It seems that Malcolm, the movie’s scribe/helmer, is on the proverbial cloud 9 due to his latest film being given an overwhelming tidal wave of praise. Suffice it to say then that even though he is irked by what is sure to be the all-but-guaranteed dissection of his work from both a critical and political standpoint, he is still euphoric and hopeful to say the least. Unfortunately it seems that his happiness is not shared by his lady love Marie who starts out solemnly standing outside smoking while Malcolm is basking in his triumph. However when her solemnity can no longer be looked over, we soon learn the reason for why Marie is as solemn and sullen as she is right now. It appears that not only is Marie irked with Malcolm because of some idiotic joke made by a friend of his, to say nothing of some snide remarks thrown out by the film’s leading lady, but she is also sullen because he forgot to thank her whilst talking with the audience after the film was complete. Thus, even without them knowing it, our dynamic duo has now begun the process of creating a snowball (like the ones in Crash Bandicoot) and placing at the peak of a very big mountain. I say this because it seems that this omission is the latest irk that has been added to the list of issues that Marie has started to form against Malcolm (yikes). Thus it is safe to point out that what has started as a night for triumph is about to become a night for Tylenol due to the massive headache that these two are about to place on one another and by the time the movie is done you will see that the phrase “love is war” might just have a whole lot more meaning to it than we as civilized people might be willing to admit…

Now in sharing creative genetic material with slices of cinematic pie in the same vein such as My Dinner With Andre to name one particular noteworthy example, I think it is safe to say that Malcolm & Marie is about as bare bones as a narrative could potentially get (right down to putting the whole film in black and white). As such, it really says quite a lot about the jaggedness and brilliant tempo of this movie’s script that it is able to get your attention and then successfully keep it from the moment the movie gets underway. Indeed as the dialogue between the two stars continues to move and change throughout, we find ourselves consistently learning more and more about them as people. As such this helps to contribute new levels of both depth and point of view and as overwhelming as this slice of cinematic pie may be in regards to exposition, I feel that it needed to be due to how this movie was designed from the start and as such it also feels genuine. It should also be noted that this slice of cinematic pie is one that doesn’t tell us more than it needs to which then allows the movie to be very closely acquainted with our dynamic duo and quite organic and relatable to those who choose to sit down and watch this movie. It’s also worth noting that the movie also quite often jumbles together how it delivers things which, in addition to keeping things from getting old, also aids both the flow of the narrative and the passion with which that narrative is being told. Indeed this movie may get quite a bit out of seeing our lovely couple bickering with each other, but this is just one mode that the film chooses to utilize. Rather, we also see that there are decent chunks of this film where it is propelled forward more by monologue and there is even an instance where Marie even gets out what she is trying to say courtesy of playing a song that she fires up on her phone. Suffice it to say then that whilst this slice of cinematic pie’s narrative is hindered by not having as many ways to express itself creatively, it still manages to do the best it can with what it does have.

Now as brilliant as the tempo this movie is saddled with proves to be, I feel I ought to tell you that this slice of cinematic pie is hindered just a bit due to escalation slightly crippling the final third of the movie. I mean make no mistake: Malcolm & Marie is a slice of cinematic pie that, by and large, does operate with a refreshing degree of intellect when it comes to tempers getting fiery and then things settling down. Yet the fact still remains that this movie does hit that critical overload point way too early on in the movie. A move that incidentally, does take a lot of gas out of the car and leaves it struggling a bit to get to the finish line. Yes there are attempts made to add fuel courtesy of Malcolm going on quite the rant about film critics that I found ironically enjoyable and Marie does do some quite dramatic things with a blade that I won’t say here, but ultimately this slice of cinematic pie is never as riveting as when this couple stops playing nice and just lets it all out. Of course, it should be noted that this wouldn’t work nearly as well if the film was not in possession of a pair of truly terrific thespians to bring our clawed lovebirds to life. Thankfully, I can confirm that both Zendaya and John David Washington manage to give truly riveting performances in this that allow them to actually, for all intents and purposes, become their respective characters. Indeed not only does the previously discussed shifting mood changes between them allow them on an individual level to show just what they are capable of, but they also have terrific chemistry together that allows them to give us a pairing that we can believe has been through all of this together as well. Indeed seeing as this dynamic duo is currently on a path that has seen them become known to more and more people in the entertainment industry to say nothing of the casual moviegoer, I can promise you that the riveting performances they give herein will be ones that they can easily add to their resumes for any future projects they decide to work on.

All in all yes I can honestly say that as a slice of cinematic pie, Malcolm and Marie is one that is cursed with being in the ballpark of plus or minus 15 minutes too long for its own good. Yet after taking that out of the equation, what you find yourself left with is some truly undeniably incredible work accomplished in a film that managed to be assembled in less than a year and has managed to come out of the gates as truly riveting highlight reel for the trinity of talent involved.  By that I mean not only does our truly dynamic and electric acting duo Zendaya and John David Washington manage to further confirm their immense talents as thespians of the celluloid screen, but we also get to witness as film helmer Sam Levinson manages to further mold and craft his distinct directorial style and in the process make what is, from an aesthetic point of view, a truly gorgeous slice of cinematic pie to behold. Suffice it to say then that, more than anything else it aspires to be, Malcolm and Marie manages to be quite the wonderful springboard for the talent that is involved both in front of and behind the camera and in that respect the movie manages to do exactly what it is supposed to do and then some. On a scale of 1-5 I give Malcolm and Marie “2021” a solid 3.5 out of 5.