The work of Malcom & Marie, a recently added resident of the Netflix assortment of Dramas stands singularly as a bold portrayal of the real life error and abuse exposed in romantic relationships. In fact, as nuanced as this film is, I believe this story and its characters would not be able to function as succinctly without the rising factor of romance. Malcom & Marie energetically ruminates on how a couple must identify their exploitative tendencies and widespread dissatisfaction. These areas are then shown through lenses concerning ones’ past trauma and history with self-harm and drug abuse, ones’ artistic ego, and indeed misogyny as it further sees intersection with race; Throughout the film, we get a special closure with the characters and the authentic sense of who they are as it is also informed by their ‘closed-off’ relationship with one another.
The film opens up with initial contrast of the two characters, Malcom and Marie. Marie appears waywardly distraught (in her glimmering dress- a nod to the “Trophy Wife” aspect she offers) after the event the two were just at which celebrated Malcom’s new film- and Malcom, egregiously demanding for interaction and attention towards his own critique of the event. He begins to go on a tangent about the White, female critic at the event and the way in which she highlighted the success of the film Malcom directed by manners regarding his being Black and creating art centered around a Black, female character. This treatment being demeaning; This is meant to play into the societal criticism that is often faced by BIPOC from White people, specifically when they are the ones grading an artistic expression; The recognition and celebration becomes that of mockery. Standing aside is Marie with a smoke, intending on finding just enough peace and stability to prepare a pot of Instant Mac & Cheese for Malcom.
We find out that in Malcom’s acceptance speech, there was no mention of gratitude towards Marie. This exchange, in all of its’ profound momentum creates a point of understanding for the audience that speak on misogyny and male-dominance in their relationship. These messages are vastly real. Think of the heterosexual relationships where women are subjected to particular treatment by men- being taken advantage of; For their support and willed presence, for the ample real-estate of their future: things that they cannot express and the pieces of their past that must be ignored for survival by a dynamic empowered by man. This is a dreadful pattern in relationships that lean into that of heteronormative behaviors: a need to uphold only that which can be celebrated, awarded, and picturesque. From this idea as rooted as it is in our society, it acts as the focal point of the film and the hard truth for the audience. And all the while, this opening tension hosts the complexity and degrees of hardship in the relationship.
As we move throughout the film, we see the ways in which their relationship is distinctly unbalanced: Malcom’s thorough and aged martyrdom, Marie’s sense of self is also boldly explored, her past traumas making her character one who many could see themselves in- not worked through but nevertheless yearning for equity in a relationship. It becomes increasingly visible the sense of empathy that is involved with watching this movie and following such tightly strung dialogue. It makes you wonder about their past as a scale for the investment into their future. In this, I found the directorial and screenwriting work to be most impressive. I love to see characters on screen who are not just imperfect but convey their imperfections to offer real meaning of perception from an audience. This exchange, I should point out is enforced by a possible foreshadowing as per the early conversation Malcom indulged in about his art being overly analyzed, thereby mangled by the White journalist. This truthful and poignant foreshadowing and depiction of the White journalist should not be lost onto the audience. The White journalist could be seen as an avatar for contentment and fragility to the storyline and equally to Malcom and Marie’s relationship as a whole. Throughout the culmination of these interacting plots, the audience becomes more aware and more concerned with the hard truths of what is being voiced and the underlying meaning of what is being avoided. The nuance of these two people arise by their greatest insecurities and their desperate sense of needing one another.
Malcom & Marie hits home the tale of relationship dynamics, the unpacking of communication as it is the driving force of relationships. And emboldens the narrative of the two’s relationship: from right and wrong, good and bad, to desires and achievements, intersecting complacency and understanding.