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THE MOVIE GUY — “Malcolm & Marie” is gorgeous but shallow

“Malcolm & Marie”

Netflix Films

Directed by Sam Levinson

Starring Zendaya and John David Washington

Rated R

 

3 Stars

 

When the pandemic forced HBO to stop production on the second season of “Euphoria,” director Sam Levinson decided to make the most of his unexpected hiatus.

The result is “Malcolm & Marie,” an impromptu melodrama that plays like a modern “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” but with a hot young acting couple at the center.

John David Washington and Zendaya star as the titular characters. He’s a filmmaker whose new project is getting critical acclaim. Flush with anticipated success, Malcolm makes a speech at his premiere and forgets to thank Marie, the woman who’s been instrumental in helping him with his career.

It’s an act of betrayal that turns “Malcolm & Marie” into a lover’s quarrel of a movie. We watch as the two characters engage in a verbal dance where the power dynamics and audience allegiances are constantly shifting. Thanks to the talent of the two actors, the fight is quite engaging.

Washington is a solid movie star, and he’s quite good here, but it’s Zendaya who really steals the show. At 25 years of age, she’s showing acting prowess that eludes many of her far-older peers. It also helps that she’s drop-dead gorgeous, so the camera lingers in closeups that allow the actress to express her emotions with subtle facial expressions. It’s a great piece of acting.

Did I mention that she’s only 25?

The cinematography and production design are also gorgeous. Shot in crisp black and white at an architectural marvel of a house, the film is so aesthetically pleasing that you might mistake its style for that of a love story. Visually, it certainly feels like something worthy of a glamorous Hollywood romance.

Content wise — not so much.

It’s the surface that shines in “Malcolm & Marie,” but dig a little deeper and the movie reveals its flaws. These two characters aren’t fully formed, and there are moments where their argument feels like an intellectual exercise rather than a full-blooded disagreement. That’s probably due to the impromptu nature of this production, but that doesn’t excuse the film’s dramatic weaknesses.

All of which makes “Malcolm & Marie” an engaging film to watch, just as long as you don’t try to excavate anything below the surface level.

It’s a solid effort that might have been better if the filmmakers had more time to think out what they were trying to accomplish, rather than simply rushing to make a movie during an unexpected break.

It certainly makes you wonder what these actors could do with a stronger screenplay and a full pre-production schedule at their disposal.

“Malcolm & Marie” is currently playing in select theaters and streaming on Netflix.

 

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week by Port Arthur Newsmedia and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.