Malcolm & Marie: Review

When I first saw the title, actors & trailer for this film, I became very intrigued. If you know me, you know I love a good movie about black love, so I became pretty excited! Especially because it was being released a few days before Valentines, so that obviously increases the expectation that it may be a cute typical romcom with good-looking actors. Boy, was I wrong!

If you haven’t watched it and still plan to, I suggest you stop reading now. I don’t want to cause you to watch it with bias. But if you have, feel free to proceed. Malcolm & Marie is a film featuring only two actors, Zendaya and John David Washington, with one setting for the entire film, which is their home. The movie literally captures one night-long argument between the couple, and that’s it. My first impression when I saw the trailer was that of interest, particularly because it was a black and white production. I’ve seen very few modern movies with this feature due to the insatiable need for human beings to stay entertained, even to the smallest detail including colour. I already know this was a turn-off for many people, particularly if you have a short attention span. As a result, this feature puts a lot of pressure on the content of the film itself to compensate for the lack of colour. I personally think making it in black-and-white was the right choice though. It suited the themes of the movie and matched the atmosphere within Malcom & Marie’s home. I honestly believe that if it was in colour, it would have taken away from the serious and more sinister scenes in the movie. The B&W forces you to concentrate on what is being said and how dark the arguments are between the two, which I think was a brilliant cinematic effect.

I must say that I did find the movie very interesting, but nevertheless I have some somewhat critiques. I believe the movie was longer than it needed to be, being 1hr 46min. This added an exhaustive quality to the film. But on the other hand, I think this longevity was fitting with the nature of the couple’s relationship, i.e., lasting longer than it needed to. See the thing about this movie is I’m not sure it was so much about entertaining an audience than providing an accurate depiction of toxic relationships. I’m going to explore that very soon, but I honestly think it was more about making people understand the depth of toxic relationships and really draw you into what one is like. Toxic relationships, or rather abusive relationships, have a tendency to follow that ‘black-and-white’, ‘end the movie sooner than later’, ‘this is becoming repetitive’ effect.. And that’s where my second critique is, which is that certain things seemed to become repetitive and predictable after a number of scenes. On one hand, this started to bore me because I wanted to be taken by surprise at some point at least, but on the other hand this really does represent the nature of a toxic relationship.. repetitive and predictable to everybody except the two people inside it themselves.

Now, I want to talk about my thoughts on the main themes I saw within the movie, which I thoroughly enjoyed (and also was triggered by). I don’t think this movie was created for just any sort of audience, if I am to be honest, and I think the directors and producers understood that before releasing it. Interestingly, the movie is directed by Sam Levinson and is actually apparently based on some of his experiences and thoughts about the film industry. But I don’t know enough to make a comment on that. However, Sam Levinson said he made the movie “in hopes of sparking a conversation”, and I think he did just that. So now, I’m going to engage in that conversation with you guys. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below after reading this.

The main themes I will talk about are all aspects of the toxic relationship seen between the two protagonists and include narcissism, sex, emotional manipulation, low self-esteem, and the challenging of leaving. Let’s discuss.


I’m going to start straight out: Malcolm is a narcissist. If you don’t know what a narcissist is, it is someone who has “an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others”. It is essentially somebody who, to an extreme level, thinks the world is just about them and thus treats people terribly as a result of their inflated sense of self. They are often not conscious of doing this, it is an inherent trait for them. I’m not going to lie, this movie really triggered me because I have been with a narcissist before. The nature of the couple’s toxic relationship was very personal to me, as I understood it to an extent that I am not proud of. Malcolm’s narcissism unfolds bit by bit as the movie goes on. It begins when he doesn’t see it as a big deal that he forgot to thank Marie during his speech, despite the fact that they have been together for 5 years and she was essentially the muse for the movie. He doesn’t allow Marie to be upset about it – even though it only makes sense for her to be – just because it’s his ‘big night’. He thinks the fact that it is the night of his movie premier is an excuse for totally dismissing how Marie is feeling as a result of his own actions.. All he is concerned with is feeling entitled to praise and celebration, even if it is at the expense of the closest person in his life’s feelings. Entitlement is a huge trait of narcissism and Malcolm does a great job at showing it, particularly through the excessively abusive language he uses towards her when she fails to give him what he wants.


Sex in toxic relationships is a whole ‘nother conversation in itself. And we see this portrayed well in this movie. If you noticed, there was a recurring theme of bad moment -> good moment -> bad moment -> good moment throughout the film. And without failure, all the ‘good moments’ had sex as a major feature, even though the couple were not successfully able to have sex at any point due to a lingering argument always being on the way. But something striking was that the transition between these good moments and bad moments would happen so quickly. It was like one moment they are literally abusing each other and the next they are all laid up with one another. And I think this is an incredible portrayal of the up-and-down nature of a toxic relationship, and also the hinge sex has within one.

You will see many people describe the sex they have within an unhealthy relationship to be amazing. The truth is, it’s not the sex that’s amazing; it’s the fact that nothing else in the relationship is. If you give a starving child one meal, they will think it’s the best meal of their life. Not because it is, but because they are used to receiving nothing else. Sex acts as a major distractor in the most toxic and unhealthy relationships, because it is the one thing that brings a source of happiness to the two involved. This is why lust is a very dangerous thing, because it masquerades as love when in reality if you take the sex out of the relationship, the relationship will rot to the ground. ‘Good sex’ distracts people from important conversations, from their own pain, from incompatibilities between partners etc. This is truly why I understand when God says to abstain from sex until marriage. It just makes everything complicated if not. Malcolm & Marie would have walked away from each other a long time ago if the fog sex created over their eyes had been cleared.

Emotional Manipulation

Now this is a major aspect of this film. Gaslighting is seen to another degree through Malcom’s behaviour. He is at fault most of the time, but he makes Marie feel like she is crazy when she negatively responds to his faults. Narcissists tend to love exercising emotional manipulation, it’s like heroin to them. Because if you make somebody else feel like they’re in the wrong, it prevents you from having to deal with your own mess-up, and further adds to the picture that you are good and perfect.

Emotional manipulation is something I have been extensively subject to in my life. I wish I was aware of it whilst it was ongoing, but it’s harder to recognise it when you’re the victim yourself. It makes you feel like you are always overreacting, always needing to apologise, never good enough etc. It makes you constantly seek validation from the manipulator, because you begin to question your own rationale and ability to see things objectively. Marie seems to have grown numb to it, but she also practises some emotional manipulation herself. The maddest part about this movie is you cannot point at one character and say they are the sole villain.. Both of them have their respective deep issues. Both of them are verbally abusive. Both of them have a sinister and exhausting quality to their character, which makes the relationship itself a whole mess.

Marie goes back and forth between saying everything is okay and then choosing to bring up another issue she has found about the movie Malcolm produced. This puts Malcolm in a confused state of mind because he thinks all has settled until he is proven wrong again and again. Maybe Marie should have been more honest with him when he first asked. I don’t believe she is completely innocent, as she was also toying with his emotions. Both of them are cruel to one another and passive aggressive at times, which shows by their recurrent playing of music that depicts how they are feeling inside. They really are a complex pair, neither being good for each other. (Side note: Just because two people are damaged doesn’t make them good as a pair; someone needs to read that again).

Low Self-Esteem

Without a doubt, low self-esteem is the reason why Marie stayed in a relationship that she should have left a long time ago. Firstly, Malcolm has a hero complex where he thinks he was Marie’s saviour from her drug addiction. I can already tell that he thinks he is the reason for her healing and that’s why he acts anyhow towards her, because he thinks she owes him for doing her a ‘favour’. There is a harrowing scene in the bathroom where Malcolm is spouting off a cruel list of things that he knows will hurt Marie. I’m not going to lie to you guys, I genuinely felt this scene. I felt like I was in Marie’s position, and seeing her holding back tears but still wanting to hear more hurtful things was very distressing. Maybe it was distressing because I can relate in a sense. Have you ever been in a situation you know is hurting you but you intentionally choose to stay? I have been. You’re seeing something you know brings you pain, but you want to see the whole thing. Hearing something heart-breaking, but want to hear it all. That inexplainable need to remain is actually a very unhealthy manifestation of a low self-esteem being fed. People with low self-esteem like to consume painful information because something within them feels like they deserve it, despite how much it hurts. In another sense, it feeds a part of you that makes you feel like you have to improve so that this person can approve of you in future.

Additionally, Marie’s low self-esteem is seen through her willingness to take in all the cruel insults Malcolm has spouted upon her. Her choosing to stay, despite all of that, shows she does not value herself. See, being the one person who is willing to stay in a toxic person’s life doesn’t make you strong and heroic. It makes you gullible and shows you lack respect for yourself and your emotions. Please, choose you instead.

The Challenge of Leaving

The one question people always seem to ask when it comes to abusive relationships is: why not just leave? It’s a bit more complex than that when you have a plethora of attachments to that person and you feel like they are the only one that understands you, or rather you are the only one that understands them.

The funny thing about Malcolm is he mocks Marie about her perceived desire to feel needed, but whenever Marie wanders away from their home, Malcolm goes into a state of panic. It is clear that he has a fear of her leaving him, but he doesn’t wish to admit it as that would be a blow to his inflated ego. Marie, on the other hand, knows she should leave. She expresses this clearly in her final monologue in the movie, yet she still chooses not to. The thing about people in toxic relationships is that they are often well aware that they should leave, but there is a stubborn part of them that thinks it would be unfair if they did. They choose self-sacrifice over self-love. This movie depicts this very clearly through the character of Marie, who endures being taken for granted simply because she knows nobody else will put up with Malcolm.

You must understand that Malcolm forgetting to thank Marie in his speech is a big deal because it shows how over-familiar he has become with her, to the point where he no longer appreciates her subconsciously. And that’s exactly what happens when you let somebody walk over you so much. When you allow yourself to be someone’s punching bag and source of pleasure at the same time, they have no choice but to devalue you because they think you will never leave. People always take for granted the things that they feel they don’t have to fight for.


So in conclusion, I really did like this movie for the underlying aims it was trying to achieve. Would I willingly watch it again? Probably not. Would I go to see it in a cinema? I don’t think so. But did it help me see the authenticity of what toxic relationships are like? Most definitely. Did it make me reflect after watching it? Of course.

For the average person, it’s not your typical entertaining Netflix movie. But it most definitely did tell a good story. For the concept, I would give it 5/5. For the actual screenplay itself, I wouldn’t give it as high a rating. The complex thing about this movie is that as much as I would have liked to be more engaged and more excited, I know that wasn’t the primary aim. Overall, I would rate it a 3/5.

Comment your opinions if you have watched it, and even your opinions on this review! If you plan to watch it after this, feel free to say something too.

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  1. Olivia Emade says:

    Amazing Review!! ?? I totally agree that there is not one sole villain! A lot of people are making Malcolm the only villain. And it’s so true that this movie isn’t for everyone, I’m hearing a lot of people say it’s booooring just because it’s black and white or that it’s in one place but I absolutely loooved (not just because I’m obsessed with Zendaya) the movie! It’s really vulnerable and real!

    1. Mayowa says:

      I really enjoyed reading this review!? This movie definitely had some striking themes which you mentioned. I totally agree Malcom is a narcissist! The fact he literally abuses Marie while eating the mac and cheese she prepared, even had the nerve to get seconds!??
      I too loved how the story was told in black and white avoided all cinematic effects, not your typical romantic film which is why I liked the movie. The simplicity of the movie was really thought through even down to wardrobe which made me as a viewer just focus on the storyline.

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