You know the satisfied catharsis you feel after a properly good cry? That’s the feeling you get when the credits roll on Netflix’s Oscar-tipped new drama, Malcolm And Marie. Following a young couple (Zendaya and BlacKkKlansman star John David Washington) over the course of a single night, it’s an intensely emotional ride that is, quite frankly, exhausting – but absolutely worth your time.
Malcolm is a filmmaker, and when we meet the pair they’ve just returned from his big premiere to a sprawling LA mansion. But as Marie whips up some late-night mac ‘n’ cheese in her glittering gown, it’s clear she has a bone to pick: he didn’t thank her in his speech.
This seemingly innocuous moment quickly unravels into the mother of all arguments. In the hour and 46 minutes that follow, they cry, shout, kiss, make up, then shout some more.
And though it’s utterly absorbing – no small feat for a film in which absolutely nothing happens – I kept thinking the same thing over and over again: ‘How can two people who claim to love each other be so horrific?’
Because they really are: the chunks they bite out of each other will make you wince. They stomp from room to room, each unrelenting and determined to ‘win’. The sparring invokes everything from past lovers to drug addiction as the couple edge towards dawn and a romantic reckoning.
As heavy as it is, it’s important to mention the moments of light relief. Sometimes Malcolm’s fury tips into the comical: at one point he’s incandescent over the fact that he can’t read a review of his own film on the LA Times because he’s not a paying subscriber. Marie’s sharp wit often induces a smile too – there’s a particularly brilliant bit about The Lego Movie – and the sheer beauty of every black-and-white frame takes the edge off the tension.
Some of the monologues can feel self-indulgent, however, as Zendaya and Washington work with an often painfully self-aware script. There’s a tirade against the obtuseness of film critics which lasts almost 10 minutes, and musings about whether all art is political that are worthy of an eye roll.
But if you couldn’t take your eyes off Zendaya in Euphoria, also written and directed by Sam Levinson, you’ll be bowled over by her performance here. One particular scene, in which Marie proves to Malcolm that she should’ve been cast in his film, is utterly thrilling and acted with a wisdom well beyond her 24 years. The age difference between the two leads sparked whispers in the run-up to the film’s release (Washington is 12 years her senior) but it’s not a disparity that shows – Zendaya simply outshines him.
Malcolm And Marie is available to stream on Netflix from 5 February.
Meena Alexander is Stylist magazine’s features editor.