Malcolm & Marie – In Cold Love

During the lockdown period, Sam Levinson diverted his attention from Euphoria (2019-present) to something more mundane. Together with the crew of the series, the showrunner shot a conversational drama over two weeks in California.

by Naya Guseva


The black-and-white movie, shot on the now-beloved film, makes us feel like a deer frozen in the light of car headlights from the very beginning. Literally — that's what the movie begins with. The effect lasts for most of the film: all we have to do is watch the chaos unfolding on the screen. A young couple returns from a successful screening of one of their own, Malcolm, who drinks and dances on the windowsill in joy. John David Washington, who plays the ambitious director, doesn't seem to move one from his role in Christopher Nolan's Tenet (2020) (Our article about this film) - on the other hand, after being a unique special agent, it's a good idea to play an abusive narcissist. Meanwhile, Marie, played dazzlingly by Zendaya, is cooking mac and cheese in a gleaming evening gown and is clearly not happy about something. All this is accompanied by Malcolm's fiery speech about the stupidity of the critics, who praise the film, but see in it only the urgent problems of racism and sexism, not the story of a drug-addicted girl.
Of all the above, one wants to grasp each one individually, but Levinson does not give such an opportunity and races forward, creating a quite realistic one-and-a-half-hour fight. Western critics have accused the film of being vague in its subject matter and scrappy. Well, apparently, they've never had a fight with someone they love and want to kill at the same time.
It turns out that the snowball started small — Malcolm didn't thank dear Marie in his speech, from whom the heroine of his film was partly written off. That's where it all starts — an unpleasant little thing followed by occasional rudeness. But for the girl, it's not a trifle, but a revealing attitude of the director toward her, while he doesn't even notice his overly offensive rudeness. One second we think Marie is a crazy egomaniac trying to see herself in everything. In a moment Malcolm, munching on that very same pasta, turns into an "emotional terrorist" and screams through the house about the girl's mental problems.

Both characters seem to lose their minds, and the viewer becomes an unwitting witness to their mutual destruction. Once Marie evokes pity with her monologue about her hard life in the shadow of the narcissistic director, the focus shifts to Malcolm, who, through tears, tries to explain his immense love. A minute passes, and he selfishly returns to find out why Marie called him mediocre — because she wanted to hurt him or really thinks so.
In an endless stream of insults and misunderstandings, everyone tries to jab harder. It seems to us that after all this has been said, they just can't stay together — the very step from love to hate has already been taken. But the characters suddenly kiss passionately, laugh and make LEGO movie jokes about Angela Davis. It seems as if everything is falling into place, but another bout of selfishness on Marie's part cuts the erotic scene short for the main question: why didn't Malcolm cast her in the lead role? And it starts all over again.
Charlie Kaufman's conversational drama I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2020), in which the characters spend most of their time driving in the car and talking about problems so gently as if they were afraid to say too much and hurt each other's feelings. Their pacing is fluid, so it's understandable — at least it's traceable. In Malcolm & Marie, Levinson creates a dynamic with regular whiplash and knife-throwing. Conflict is inevitable and neither of the participants will compromise.

The picture does not become a simple reflection on human relationships during the quarantine. "What I feel is much deeper," Marie says, sobbing, and pushes the idea that what's going on is all about satiety, when two people are crammed into even the biggest house. Levinson himself drew on personal experience, and this somewhat clarifies what is going on, because it is much easier to reliably tell a quarrel when you go through it yourself.

Each monologue is reasoned and sincere, but also egotistical, narcissistic and sadistic. The only thing confusing is the unexpected talk of racism, of the inability of modern filmmaking to go beyond the limits it sets for itself. On the one hand, it is rational to hear the dark-skinned director's dissatisfaction with the reviews of "white-haired" critics, but on the other hand, they do not fit in with the overall picture and only remind us of Malcolm's narcissism. And even Marie's brief discussion of her role as a jeweller in the creator's life almost touches on the status of women but does so, so superficially that it would have been better not to touch on it at all. Levinson tries several times to throw a stone at the mores of modern Hollywood but fails to do so, intentionally or accidentally. In the intervals, however, we can only catch our breath before the next avalanche of insults.

The most illogical thing about this movie is the ending, where the characters don't run away from each other in different directions, but still stay together. We can't hear what they're talking about outside the window: discussing the review again or continuing to figure things out. But we do know that things will go on and on. Perhaps it will drag on for a long time. And it's only illogical for us, watching other people's drama from the sidelines. For Malcolm and Marie, this relationship may be the only thing that makes their lives brighter in a monochromatic world. They love to criticize and do not accept remarks made to them, they see their own reflection everywhere even without a mirror, and they deny the possibility of beautiful things existing without them. Therefore, the disciple of the saint and the beloved of God (yes, these are many interpretations of the names of the main characters) gnaw into each other more and more, dooming them to remain not in a loving embrace, but somewhere between the fangs. And they will continue to torture each other without the possibility of "loving themselves enough to accept another's love."
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