'Malcolm & Marie' Reviews: Why Some Critics Are Negative on Zendaya's Netflix Movie

Malcolm & Marie was one of the high profile films in Netflix's plan to release a new movie every single week in 2021 and was marketed as an awards contender. However, upon its release, Malcolm & Marie was savaged by critics, who criticized the performances by leads Zendaya and John David Washington, but mostly saw the script from Euphoria showrunner Sam Levinson as lacking.

"The message at the core of Malcolm & Marie is facile, vain and undemanding, an attempt to sell a loud, sullen tantrum about artistic work as soulful debate shot on 35 mm film," wrote critic Melanie McFarland in Salon. "Malcolm, the 30-something director, is the screaming, self-important manifestation of the artist's ego and confidence in his vision, the arrogant shadow every successful creator has to nurture in order to keep on going. Marie, his 20-something recovering addict girlfriend, is the wounded side that demands to be seen and questions his originality, acting as judge and would-be jailer."

McFarland added, "They are the personification of the artist's inner struggle, proving that seeing such internal battles made flesh really isn't as interesting as one might imagine it to be."

Most critics agree that Malcolm & Marie commits the cardinal sin of being boring. "In the hands of a stronger writer, Malcolm & Marie could have taken its cues from great theater two-handers, duets designed to showcase their actors," wrote critic Alissa Wilkinson in Vox. "It could have explored Malcolm and Marie's power dynamics in a way that keeps the audience on their toes, electrified by the shifting sands beneath their feet. Instead, the movie strangely feels like a dip into its writer's psyche as it wars with itself, revealing that neither side has progressed past classroom arguments in a junior-year art history course. The feeling of listening to someone say things you have heard a thousand people say before is not illuminating or interesting. It is maddening, mostly because it's a waste of time."

Critic Angelica Jade Bastien wrote in Vulture that Malcolm & Marie highlighted "Washington's alarming limitations as an actor." "He seems unable to wrap his mouth around the overloaded, rapid-fire dialogue," wrote Bastien. "Zendaya doesn't fare much better. I'm not sure any two actors could save the film from its own overwrought script and grand self-importance. She feels especially ill-suited for the bawdy, forceful role, yet Washington seems the easier target for disdain, given how Malcolm is written and positioned."

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These critical reviews come in the wake of Malcolm & Marie stirring up some controversy when it was announced due to the 12-year age gap between the two leads. Zendaya dismissed the criticism at the time. "I've played a 16-year-old since I was 16. You have to remember, also, people grew up with me as a child," Zendaya told E! News. "It's like watching, I guess, your younger sibling now, you know, they're grown. … So it's hard for people to wrap around the idea that I am grown in real life. You know, even though I do play a teenager on television still."

People also raised concern over Levinson, a white director, writing Black characters discussing the difficulties and importance of creating Black art. "I have faith in the collaborative process and in my partners that if I write something that doesn't feel true, that JD or Z don't respond to or feel to be honest, that they are going to say something and we'll work it out," Levinson said in Esquire, brushing off the questions. "I didn't have anxiety in that sense because I have too much respect for the collaborative nature of filmmaking."