Malcolm (John David Washington) returns home after the premiere of his movie in celebration mode, having lapped up nothing but praise in its wake. His longtime girlfriend Marie (Zendaya), however, is in a darker mood. As she prepares some kraft dinner for him, she cautions him that they should wait until morning to discuss but Malcolm doesn’t recognize good advice when he hears it and insists on airing things out.
Is Marie mad because Malcolm forgot to thank her in his speech? Yes and no. It’s a symptom, she thinks, of a larger disease in their relationship. At any rate, it’s the starting point to a very big, very bad fight that will last for hours – that is, in fact, the entirety of this movie. Sam Levinson writes and directs, and shoots these two in just a handful of room in a rental house where the feeling is claustrophobic, and the need for air is never quite satisfied. Marcell Rév’s cinematography is to die for, and sometimes you feel as though you just might, because this fight is so tense and raw and horrible it seems easier to just drop dead than to continue on in this vein.
That said, is this a fun watch? No it is not. It feels very heavy at times. But you continue watching, almost glued to your seat, transfixed by two heavy weight performances. John David Washington shows full spectrum range, his character careening wildly from love to hate and back again, always at full steam, full froth, full strength. Malcolm goes off on several volatile tangents, taking shots at Hollywood, criticism, perspective, and identity; in this state, anything and everything makes him angry and nothing escapes his vitriol. Zendaya as Marie is perhaps slightly more stable but no less emotional. Giving your heart to someone else also means giving them ammunition and these two know how best to wound each other, and neither is pulling any punches. With deliberate cruelty, they pick at every scab they’ve inflicted over the course of their relationship and it’s hard to watch.
Malcolm and Marie will understandably be polarizing. It’s hard to spend any of your precious time watching another couple fight, yet I believe the performances are so stunning and relentless that it makes it all worth it. There’s no plot at all, just insults and accusations, yet this is how Levinson’s script allows us to discover these characters, their back story, their hurts and hopes and ambitions and secrets. Levinson carefully balances and imbalances the dynamics of this relationship over the course of the night. Neither comes off as overly likeable or entirely sympathetic. A fight like this inevitably shows you at your worst, but for Washington and Zendaya, these performances are career best.