'Malcolm & Marie': What Reviewers Are Saying

Starring Zendaya and John David Washington, the film hits Netflix on February 5.

While the rest of us were at home attempting sourdough starters and bingeing Tiger King through blurry eyes, Emmy-winning actress Zendaya produced a movie with Sam Levinson, the writer and director who gave us Euphoria. The result is Malcolm & Marie, a black-and-white film lusciously shot and completed as the first wave of the coronavirus tore through America. With the film sparkling all sorts of Oscar buzz—with whispers of a forthcoming nomination for powerhouse Zendaya—here’s everything you need to know about the buzzy film.

What's Malcolm & Marie about?

Starring Zendaya and John David Washington, the movie tells the story of a domestic spat that occurs after the titular characters return home from film director Malcolm’s latest movie premiere. In a moment of ego-driven absentmindedness, Malcolm (Washington) forgets to acknowledge his girlfriend and muse Marie (Zendaya) in his speech, leading to a turbulent discussion about art and love.

zendaya and john david washington in netflix's malcolm and marie

(Image credit: DOMINIC MILLER/NETFLIX © 2021)

Who's in the Malcolm & Marie cast?

Zendaya plays Marie, an icy and unyielding woman in her twenties who would very much like to be acknowledged for her influence on Malcolm's films. As a young, mononymous Hollywood starlet (and certified fashion icon) who has mostly played teenagers, from those struggling with drug addiction to nerdy love interests in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to Disney's KC Undercover, this role has given Zendaya the chance to explore new emotional depths.

the 72nd emmy® awards hosted by jimmy kimmel, the 72nd emmy® awards will broadcast sunday, sept 20 800 pm edt600 pm mdt500 pm pdt, on abc frank ockenfelsabc via getty imageszendaya

(Image credit: Frank Ockenfels)

In GQ’s February cover story of the actress, Zendaya told Hunter Harris, “[Marie] gave me an opportunity to use these words in a way,” she continued, “I don't yell. I'm not a very argumentative person, but it's nice to just release shit and be able to—I don't know… I guess emote would be the word? To just use her as this vessel to just get shit out that maybe I had pent up or hadn't said.”

In an interview with Elle UK, the actress also noted the creative control she had on the filmmaking process: “It was an actor’s dream. But it was also a little nerve-racking. When you have an idea, and you’re putting your own money into it—I mean, I was literally using my own clothes on set and doing my own hair and make-up—it’s hard not to get a little bit insecure. Like, ‘Oh my gosh, am I really doing this?’ It was one of the first times I just went for something, and I’m so grateful and proud of it.”

los angeles, ca january 04 actor john david washington attends the 19th annual afi awards at four seasons hotel los angeles at beverly hills on january 4, 2019 in los angeles, california photo by matt winkelmeyergetty images

(Image credit: Matt Winkelmeyer)

John David Washington plays Malcolm, an up-and-coming director who is tortured by the limits Hollywood imposes on Black creatives and the critical reception of his movies. Washington, a former running back for the St. Louis Rams (and the son of Denzel), pivoted to acting in 2015 with his role in the HBO series Ballers. More recently, he starred in Spike Lee’s Oscar-nominated film BlacKkKlansman, which earned him a Golden Globe nod, and Christopher Nolan’s Tenet.

What are critics saying about Malcolm & Marie?

Although initial reactions praised the film for its visuals and performances, critic reviews are mixed. While some have noted the film is “suffocated by all of its screenwriters hot air” and “a meta-movie parlor trick,” others have said the movie is a “vibrant, perceptive film.”

john david washington and zendaya in netflix's malcolm and marie

(Image credit: DOMINIC MILLER/NETFLIX © 2021)

It's been compared to iconic arthouse films Who’s Afraid of Virginia WoolfScenes from a Marriage, and the works of John Cassavetes due to the strength of its performances, which largely make the film necessary viewing. According to Variety, “Levinson has written Malcolm & Marie like a punchy, too-articulate-for-2am play, one that unfolds almost in real time over the course of the evening, but it's the performers who keep all the sparring from feeling staged.”

When will Malcolm & Marie be released?

The film will be released February 5 on Netflix.

Zoe Guy

Zoe Guy is the digital fellow at Marie Claire, where she covers pop culture, hot celebrity gossip, movies and TV. She’s obsessed with Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of The Age of Innocence, anything written by Jesmyn Ward and stan Twitter.