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Zendaya is clearly having a moment.

In arguably the first Hollywood feature film to be written, financed, filmed and produced amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the commanding young actress reunites with Euphoria creator Sam Levinson to create black-and-white two-hander Malcolm & Marie – a Netflix film that not only provides a look at a fiery romance but also shines a light on the film industry as a whole.

Following the premiere of his latest hard-hitting drama about addiction, film director Malcolm ( John David Washington ) and his actress-girlfriend Marie ( Zendaya ) return to their spacious home.

However, as Malcolm releases both joy and irritation at the events of the evening, Marie gradually reveals resentment that has been boiling over because of her boyfriend’s recent actions.

MALCOLM & MARIE (L-R): JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON as MALCOLM, ZENDAYA as MARIE. DOMINIC MILLER/NETFLIX © 2021
(Image: DOMINIC MILLER/NETFLIX)

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What follows is a series of confrontations that force each of them to face up to their failings, doubts, artistry, and future together.

Malcolm & Marie is a highly-watchable and occasionally dizzying snowglobe that enables its leads to deliver some cracklings performances, which Levinson is certainly happy to step back and let the film soak in. Apart from the visually-arresting use of black-and-white here, the director-writer keeps stylistic flourishes to a minimum.

Washington offers some of his most varied work yet as Malcolm, showing us an artist assured to the point of arrogance in his abilities and articulate in his anger, but often seems lacking in empathy for his girlfriend.

MALCOLM & MARIE (L-R): ZENDAYA as MARIE, JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON as MALCOLM. DOMINIC MILLER/NETFLIX © 2021
(Image: DOMINIC MILLER/NETFLIX)

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Unlike Christopher Nolan’s Tenet which failed to capitalise entirely on the star’s charisma, Levinson coaxes out the most expressive personality from Washington – ideal for some of the wild monologues later in the film.

However, the true winner in this film has to be Zendaya, galvanised after her Emmy-winning work on Euphoria and delivering a brittle, sharp, emotional, and often funny turn as the stubborn Marie.

Troubled by doubts but certain of her contribution to Malcolm’s life, Marie is a complicated individual who won’t be an ignored muse to her privileged spouse.

MALCOLM & MARIE (L-R): JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON as MALCOLM, ZENDAYA as MARIE. DOMINIC MILLER/NETFLIX © 2021.
(Image: DOMINIC MILLER/NETFLIX)

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Together the pair work with believable and natural chemistry, even when their discussions verge on the pseudo-intellectual.

The dialogue from Levinson often crackles and comes from places of honesty, but only fans buried in the politics of both the film industry and film criticism will find true enjoyment and catharsis in much of their debates. In some instances, the exchanges feel a tad too knowing and slightly undermine the emotional core of the film – even if there’s humour to enjoy here.

Yet, the politics of the couple’s relationship issues are still often universal enough to appeal in the mainstream. A focus on appreciation, honesty, and crippling self-doubt is something many will find to carry much gravity. The arguments can feel repetitive and painful but what domestic clashes don’t revolve in spiteful circles?

MALCOLM & MARIE (L-R): JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON as MALCOLM, ZENDAYA as MARIE. DOMINIC MILLER/NETFLIX © 2021
(Image: DOMINIC MILLER/NETFLIX)

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Ultimately, Malcolm & Marie is a real showcase for John David Washington but especially for Zendaya, whilst also showing further promise for Sam Levinson as a filmmaker after his stunning work on the television drama Euphoria.

Verdict

Malcolm & Marie sees Zendaya light up the screen in this fiery two-hander that proves Sam Levinson is a filmmaker to watch – even if some of the topics discussed are a bit too niche for general audiences.

Malcolm & Marie is released on Netflix on February 5, 2020.

What is your favourite cinematic two-hander? Let us know in the comments below.