Malcolm & Marie has rightly been praised for the efficiency of its production during a pandemic. Its positive and negative aspects are not driven by the context of that production, but it deserves mention, because Malcolm & Marie compares well to films that took more than two weeks to make. The acting by Zendaya and John David Washington is exemplary and often gripping. The setting (Feldman Architecture's Caterpillar House in Carmel) is fascinatingly perfect, and the black and white cinematography of Marcell Rév is eye-catching in a good way. As many have already noted, the film plays like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? directed by John Cassavetes.
So why didn't I like it more? On Letterboxd, Demi Adejuyigbe nailed it: "If theaters were still open this review would probably be about how someone would groan 'oh my god shut UP' or 'this guy fucking SUCKS' every few minutes and the whole audience would burst into applause". Malcolm & Marie runs for 106 minutes, and I'm going to guesstimate that the titular couple are tossing verbal daggers at each other for at least 95 of them.
This is fine at first, but it gets old fast. There is a certain realism ... I imagine most couples had a few similar up-all-night spats. But as my wife said, no one thought to film our spats, and if they had, the audience would lose patience pretty quickly.
Writer-Director Sam Levinson has proven capable of "Pandemic Cinema". His work on the two "additional" episodes of Euphoria (which also stars Zendaya, along with Hunter Schafer), shot during the COVID-induced hiatus for that show under circumstances much like Malcolm & Marie, was excellent. But the film feels endless.
I love Zendaya, and I'm glad I saw this movie. But it was a slog, even for a fan like me.