All through this tortuous turgid talkathon about two people who deserve one another—and not in a good way—trapped in a crumbling marriage, I kept thinking, Basu Bhattacharya did it a lot better. In Basu’s Aavishkar 45 years ago, the couple played so brilliantly by Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore, ripped each other apart line by line scene by scene until all we saw was the threadbare remains of a marriage that had seen much better days.
I don’t know what kind of a marriage Malcolm (John David Washington) and Marie (Zendaya) had before they came to this state of a brutally ugly mess aggravated by what looks like two good looking Black people who are thrown together with nowhere to go. Just like us, the audience. We have the option to switch off. Many times as the couple lashed out at one another, I felt like withdrawing from their private domestic war.
Some perverse streak in me kept me watching the marital mayhem to the end, in the hope that something good, something worth holding on to, will come out of this duel under the gleaming roof. All that came out of it finally was a deep frustration and rage from within me for the two hours of my life that I invested in these utterly undesirable people who deserve one another. But we certainly didn’t deserve to be thrown into their company.
Director Sam Levinson has a formula. He lets the husband and the wife abuse one another alternately. Malcolm barely finishes one savage tirade against his wife when she, not to be left behind, takes off on him with her never-ending litany of woes. This couple hates one another so much. Or do they just enjoy sparring so viciously with one another? These two could have been Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf if they had been lucidly belligerent, and White.
I bring up the colour because Malcolm keeps harping on it. He is particularly nasty about a “white woman from LA Times” who hasn’t been kind to Malcolm’s movies in the past. Malcolm vomits a lengthy venomous hyper-ventilating monologue against film critics which made me cringe. At the end of it, he collapses on the sofa while his wife seems to be laughing at him. Or was the actress enjoying a good laugh at her co-star’s hamming? Malcolm may be right about film critics being pretentious. But nothing beats the pretentiousness of this film.
Oh, didn't I tell you? Malcolm is a film director. He and his stunning wife have just returned from the premiere of his latest film, where he forgot to thank his wife whose life he has cannibalized in his new film. Marie is understandably chaffed. She vents abuse on him in sheaths of shallow resentment. Then he returns her compliments with perks. Then they take a breather for sex/smoke/dancing/peeing and return to taking turns abusing one another.
I suppose this is all supposed to be reflective of how modern marriages wear and tear and then collapse in a heap. Malcolm and Marie have plenty to say to one another. But the film (available on Netflix) tells us nothing about them. It doesn’t examine the cracks in the marriage but instead takes voyeuristic pleasure in watching the two actors go at each other like contestants in a particularly sadistic game show.
The stakes are high. But the material provided by the screenplay to the actors never quite matches the aspirations that the film sets for itself. Born out of a desire to create an intimate study of a crumbling marriage with only two very charming but not especially talented actors on screen, the raison d’etre of this portrait of an annoyingly unhappy marriage is wrong. They just wanted to shoot a stylish black-and-white film on one location with two characters during Covid. They got what they wanted. I am not sure if this film is anyone’s idea of a quarantine entertainer. Two canines fighting on the street would be more interesting, and less noisy.
Incidentally, Denzel Washington is part of a new movie dud The Little Things. Now it’s his son’s turn.
Directed by Sam Levinson, Malcolm & Marie gets 1 and a half star.
Image source: Medium, Instagram/malcolmandmariefilm, Youtube/Netflix
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