Malcolm and Marie review: Zendaya and John David Washington captivate in achingly brutal war of words

John David Washington and Zendaya are captivating in Malcolm & Marie (Picture: DOMINIC MILLER/NETFLIX)

A movie starring Zendaya and John David Washington, written and directed by Euphoria creator Sam Levinson was always going to have a lot of expectation resting on its shoulders. Thankfully, Malcolm & Marie is everything you would hope it to be and more.

After making history by becoming the youngest ever winner of the best lead actress in a drama series at last year’s Emmy awards, Zendaya made the best move to show the world exactly where she expects her career to go.

Turning to the man who made the role that bagged her impressive new gong, the Euphoria star asked Levinson if he would be willing to write a film during lockdown.

You have to believe even Zendaya must have been stunned by what the talented screenwriter presented in response.

Zendaya and John star as the titular characters as we delve into the lives of a filmmaker and his girlfriend when they return home from his movie premiere.

Malcolm is on a high as he awaits what’s sure to be a critical and financial success, however, the evening suddenly takes a turn within minutes.

The pair play a couple who have a huge fight after a film premiere (Picture: DOMINIC MILLER/NETFLIX)

It doesn’t take an expert to see that Marie is not happy about something, and so begins one of the most dreaded conversations in any relationship – the purge.

Peeling back each painful layer of their issues with scathing barbs and brutally honest monologues, Levinson somehow manages to make a fight that is so far removed from the world of most viewers and make it completely relatable.

This is a creator who knows the power of words and how to create characters that have conversations so painfully open that you almost feel like you’re invading their privacy as we watch it all go down.

The dialogue is scathing, funny, and sometimes oh-so-sweet as we witness this pair battle it out in the ring that is their stunning mansion. Sharp tonal turns see the conversations constantly bounce between rage, pain, and deep-rooted affection.

The captivating film takes place within a grand home (Picture: Netflix)

Wielding their swords of truth, we see them jab each other in the heart, slowly pushing their blade in inch by painful inch to cause further devastation. The fact this all goes down within a set space due to the real-life limitations of the coronavirus pandemic is a minor detail.

The way Levinson and cinematographer Marcell Rev manage to make full use of the house is sublime, as the mix of angles and light make the rooms feel as spacious or claustrophobic as is necessary.

But the stars are the two actors tasked with bringing Levinson’s words to life. Zendaya, 24, plays a troubled aspiring actress that is similar to her own age.

Much has been said about her age gap with Washington, 36, but the simple fact is Malcolm is meant to be older and it actually plays an important part in the couple’s dynamic.

John David Washington gives his best performance yet (Picture: Netflix)

The actress is taking the important steps away from a former Disney star to an award-winning actress. We’ve seen her play teens for nearly a decade, and now she’s making sure we know she is a full-grown woman who is ready to take on different challenges.

Zendaya is coming for that Oscar, folks. Be it with this film or one of the many amazing projects we can be confident is sure to come. There can be no doubt that she has the range and this is most definitely another career-defining performance.

Much like we’ve seen in Euphoria, the actress showcases her ability to reach deep within to channel pain, insecurity, and vulnerability like it’s nothing.

Meanwhile, Washington gives his best performance yet as his career continues to flourish thanks to well-chosen projects.

Zendaya makes it clear she is on course to win that Oscar one day (Picture: Netflix)

His character provides most of the humor, thanks to the social commentary about the current state of film criticism and movie reviews.

The scene of Malcolm losing it over a paywall to read his review is hilarious, and as he reads a piece by a critic it’s safe to say every film reviewer will feel just a bit attacked.

Elsewhere, the fact their discussion about the male gaze and the hypocrisy of the industry takes place while Zendaya is showing far more flesh than her co-star is as amusing as it intends to be.

I can’t help but fear I am falling into some of the troupes Malcolm complains about in one of the more powerful monologues that’s full of cutting remarks about word choices.

But I have to say it, this film is authentic as hell. Authenticity is key and sometimes there is no other word to use when trying to describe it.

Levinson’s script revels in it, Zendaya’s and Washington’s performances ooze it every second they are on screen.

This is a couple reflecting on life, art, love, and their feelings for each other. The result is haunting and exhausting, just like a big relationship argument would be – and that’s what makes it so great.

This could easily be adapted into a play when theatres open again. Quite simply, it is sensational – raw, layered, completely uninhibited. Bravo to everyone involved.

Malcolm & Marie is available to stream on Netflix from February 5.

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