Malcolm and Marie

By Joanna Langfield

Zendaya is what elevates this talky, ambitious piece into something worth seeing. Because Zendaya is transcendent, handling a difficult role with ease and the camera with absolute star power.

Writer/director Sam Levinson’s two character piece reminds me of the kind of stage play that used to knock ‘em out off Broadway. A filmmaker and his girlfriend are returning to the Malibu home the studio rented for them after his film’s glamorous opening. He had quite a night. There were all sorts of fancy people, telling him all sorts of fancy things. He’s a man on his way. That’s what the critic from the L.A. Times said. So why is Marie not as thrilled as Malcolm?

There’s a whole lot going on in here. The couple, played by Zendaya and a very solid John David Washington, are transplants, it seems, from New York. They’re aware of the L.A. scene, its lures and traps. But, of course, their own relationship has lures and traps, too. The push/pull of all that can make this the kind of film you might want to watch with someone you love. Or maybe not. Much, too, is made of the, in this case, biracial interconnection between artist and critic. While the thoughtful density of Malcolm’s outrage toward the fawning white woman he rants about begins as intriguing, the repetitious weight of it all bores Marie. And us, too.

But there is absolutely nothing boring about Zendaya, who commands every scene, whether she’s an active participant or not. Of course, she could not deliver what she does without the strong support of her co-star, but, as good as Washington is, and yes, he is very good, she is just a knockout.