Malcolm & Marie: Pretentious Turgid Talkative Marital Drama

Malcolm & Marie(Netflix)

Starring John David  Washington,Zendaya

Rating: * ½

All through this tortuous turgid talkathon about 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 goodlooking 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  colour because Malcolm keep 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, did’t I tell  you ?  Malclom 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 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  specially 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.

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