Malcolm & Marie

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We see actress Zendaya's face in a still from the movie Malcolm & Marie.

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Reviewer

Emily Clark

Movie Review

Malcolm loves Marie. Marie loves Malcolm. But after Malcolm neglects to thank Marie in a speech at the premiere of his directorial debut, that love comes into question.

Why did Malcolm forget to mention the person he claims is the love of his life? And why did Marie say it was fine if it really wasn’t?

Perhaps it has something to do with Marie’s former infidelity and drug use. Perhaps it has something to do with Malcolm’s desire to claim sole ownership of the film (which is coincidentally similar to Marie’s life story). Or maybe it has to do with the multitude of unspoken feelings that these two have been bottling up for years, ever since Malcolm helped Marie get clean and started working on the screenplay for his movie.

“It’s psychotic to think that forgetting to thank you is symbolic of anything other than me legitimately forgetting to f—ing thank you,” Malcolm explains. Well, whatever the reasons, it sparks the worst fight Malcolm and Marie have ever had. And it all comes back to one core issue: Regardless of what Marie’s contribution actually meant for the film, Malcolm should have at least thanked her for her support.

Positive Elements

Although watching Malcolm and Marie’s argument play out on screen is often difficult to watch, they are both honest with each other about their doubts and fears. And while they can sometimes be cruel in their anger—Marie correctly calls Malcolm out for his verbal abuse—they are also able to express how the other person makes them feel. And in the end, it seems that they are able to apologize and forgive one another.

Spiritual Elements

A man says that rather than wishing for a journalist’s death, he’s just going to pray she gets carpal tunnel so she can’t write anymore. Someone says a woman “found Jesus.” We hear mentions of Muslims and Jews.

Sexual Content

Malcolm and Marie kiss passionately several times, and Malcolm attempts to seduce Marie into having sex with him. At different points during these attempts, we see groping, heavy petting, straddling and both characters kissing the groin area (though nothing critical is seen). We also see part of Marie’s exposed backside when Malcolm kisses her there.

Marie removes her clothes to take a bath (again, we see part of her exposed backside), though we only see her from the shoulders up. She wears a dress baring a lot of skin (which Malcolm calls “sexy”) Later on, she wears underwear and a clingy tank top that leaves little to the imagination. We also see Malcolm shirtless.

A film critic writes that Malcolm used “unnecessary nudity” in his film. Marie agrees with the woman, stating that if Malcolm was a woman, he likely wouldn’t have shot a scene with a topless woman in it. Malcolm argues that it shouldn’t matter if he is a man, since he could be gay, asexual or transexual, and they wouldn’t know it.

Malcolm intentionally and graphically recounts sexual encounters with his exes to hurt Marie’s feelings, and he says he still has a nude picture of one of them. He also says that one ex-girlfriend still tells him that she wishes she had had a baby with him. And while he claims he’s never cheated on Marie, he is also dismissive when she gets jealous of the female lead in his movie. However, we also learn that Malcolm chose to stay with Marie even though she did cheat on him.

We hear about a man who wore women’s underwear. Marie calls Malcolm a “ho” and says it’s OK. Someone compares people in the film industry to prostitutes. A woman pretends to have cheated on her boyfriend with his friends. We hear graphic descriptions of male and female genitals.

Violent Content

We hear about Marie’s previous attempts to cut her own wrists. Malcolm worries that because she is dependent on him, Marie might attempt to harm herself again if he makes another big mistake in their relationship. We see Malcolm violently flail his limbs and punch the air in anger. He also makes an offhand comment that he could “snap” Marie like a twig. A woman grabs a knife and waves it around threateningly, but we later see that she is playacting. Malcolm makes a crude comment that almost sounds as if he hopes a woman will get raped.

Crude or Profane Language

The f-word is used at least 300 times (seven times preceded by “mother”). The s-word is used 85 times, and the c-word and n-word are used three times each. We hear about 25 uses of “a–,” five each of “a–hole,” “d–n,” “d–k” and “h—,” and one each of “b–tard,” “b–ch,” “c–k,” “pr–k” and “p-ssy.” God’s name is misused 15 times (three times paired with “d–n”) and Christ’s name is abused another two. We also hear two uses of the word “negro” in a manner that could be construed as derogatory.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Marie is a former drug addict, and at one point, Malcolm calls her a “pilled-out disaster.” Although he states that drugs were destroying their ability to love each other, his comment is still hurtful since he was the person who checked her into rehab and went to group-therapy sessions with her.

Marie admits that cigarettes are her “vice,” and we see her smoke several throughout the film. Malcolm indulges heavily in drinking and also smokes a cigarette.

While putting on a show, Marie pretends that she isn’t clean, never was and never intends to be. We hear that Malcolm found his ex-girlfriend passed out with a needle in her arm from drugs. He says that her sister called him years later to tell him that the woman had since overdosed and passed away. We also learn that the screenplay Malcolm wrote was about a 20-year-old drug addict.

Other Negative Elements

During their fight, Malcolm gaslights Marie—repeatedly bringing up her mental state and stating that she is crazy and delusional. He makes wild (and presumably false) accusations that she purposely picks fights whenever things are going good and states that she likes being debased and degraded by him.

Marie, for her part, says that she feels that Malcolm takes her for granted, and she gives multiple examples. Marie tells him that she was hurt that he didn’t cast her in his movie and hates that she has to work so hard in their relationship because of a fear that he’ll replace her.

Malcolm correctly asserts that the reason Marie doubts his love for her is because she doesn’t love herself and believes she is too flawed for another human being to love. And because she gave up her own career to support his, he also says he fears she’ll relapse if he fails.

Malcolm rants about white film critics who assume that because he is a black filmmaker, all of his movies must be a political commentary about black oppression. And while his concerns are valid (he points out that sometimes artists just want to portray someone else’s life), Marie rightly states that his behavior towards those critics is unacceptable.

We hear people urinate a few times. There are mentions of “Karens,” Nazis and white supremacy. A woman says she stole from someone and has no regrets, but we later learn she was putting on an act.

Conclusion

Watching Malcolm & Marie can, at times, feel sweet and sensitive and romantic. But to use a term that Marie pegs Malcolm with, it’s also “emotional terrorism.”

This isn’t a film that’s going to make you want to cozy up with a blankie and hot chocolate while saying, “Aww.” Malcolm and Marie aren’t a healthy couple. Marie has a deeply troubling past involving drug addiction and depression that she still hasn’t fully healed from. And Malcolm is egotistically in denial that he has ever done anything wrong regarding Marie, since he’s the one who helped her get sober.

The film is riddled with other obvious content issues: With uses of the f-word hitting triple digits, it lands in the top tenth percentile of profane movies that Plugged In has reviewed, and that doesn’t even include uses of the n-word and c-word. There’s also the passion shared between the couple. Because even though Malcolm and Marie are too busy arguing to actually do the deed, there’s still enough happening on screen to make viewers uncomfortable—especially since Malcolm seems to have trouble knowing whether he wants to kiss or kill his beloved.

This movie also focuses on many social issues in Hollywood—such as a failure to represent people of color without a political lens and the tendency to follow the “male gaze”—while falling into these very same tropes. And while it seemingly does this to be ironic, viewers are still subjected to gratuitous sexual content and controversial political perspectives.

Malcolm and Marie, the people, have their issues. And so does Malcolm & Marie, the film. And while at times I can appreciate the raw emotions brought to light by these characters, I still believe it would be difficult for anyone to watch this story without feeling as if they had been exposed to more content (visually, verbally and emotionally) than they were prepared for.

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Emily Clark
Emily Clark

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.