• Dami Afam Ade-Odiachi

Malcolm and Marie: Good because it's basically reality television.

Love is a layered, complicated thing. Most relationships aren’t perfect, or healthy and most people aren’t good.

Who knows why two people decide that they should be together. Who knows why they stay together. Sometimes, there’s chemistry. Lovers on the same wave length… And sometimes, you look at two people, and you can only shake your head in wonder because their togetherness makes little romantic sense. This is life… real life. Things are never as they should be. They are simply what they are.

Film isn’t real life. They are a flight of fancy. The characters in them don’t act like real people. There’s a fantasy to them, a sense of fiction that persists even when the film’s plot is non-fiction. No matter how good a film is, we never quite lose the feeling that it is a film. In films, actors have to communicate with greater nuance and efficiency than people in real life typically bother to. Actors play their roles no matter how vile, with the goal of being liked at the end, and if not liked, then at least understood. This is the problem with Malcolm and Marie, a new Netflix film that stars Zendaya as Marie and John David Washington as Malcolm. It’s a film that’s so un-film like it would be more accurate to call it reality television. But it is also the thing that makes the film so good.

Malcolm and Marie are a couple. Malcolm’s a writer-director whose film has been well received at its premiere. He gives a speech to celebrate. In the speech he thanks everyone involved in the film’s production but forgets to thank his partner Marie, who the film was essentially based on. She isn’t happy about this. When they get home she sulks. She makes him dinner with passive aggression. She doesn’t want to bring up the reason for her discontent. She wants to wait. Malcolm forces the issue, and what ensues is disgusting to watch. It is a verbal shouting match between the pair. It is the very picture of toxicity and emotional immaturity. It would have been fun if they were equal in the relationship, if both commanded the same amount of respect from the other, but that isn’t the case. Marie idolises Malcolm. Malcolm disregards Marie.

There’s a viral clip you may have seen if you’re on social media. It’s from the season 6 reunion episode of the Real Housewives of Atlanta (a reality tv show). On the show, Phaedra Parks insults her castmate, Kenya Moore so thoroughly, so wonderfully, so brutally that it is legendary. This is the essence of Malcolm and Marie.

Malcolm and Marie isn’t a story about love, or a love story. It is a study on how vicious and abusive we can be to the people who love us.

People who have seen it say they had to look away at times, because it was too intense, too much, too vile. I had to pause it every 15 minutes to process what I was seeing, what I was hearing. Then I would look at my friend, the one I was watching it with, Aburo, and we’d talk about the relationships we’d been in, and who we’d been when we were in them: Malcolm or Marie. We looked at our past relationships critically. We analysed what we’d said and what we’d done properly. The conversation turned out to be one of the most objective and honest ones I’d ever had about my sordid love life.

There have been moments in my life when I have been incredibly cruel. I believe everyone has a couple of these. I edit them out of my narrative because they are not flattering. This film forced me to acknowledge the truth about them.

Most films aren’t real but this one is. The result is a rather grim picture of a what a relationship with an abusive partner is like. It is disgusting. It is uncomfortable. But it is also necessary, and somewhat enjoyable. Modern fairy tales have complicated endings.

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