We need to talk about film criticism. It seems like every week when a new film comes out, there is the bombardment of discourse on the internet where people feel forced to pick a side on whether the film is good or bad, but there is no real conversation around the topic. This can be seen most recently with the highly anticipated Netflix release, Malcolm & Marie.
Leading up to this film, it appeared that a majority of movie-goers were at the very least optimistic about this film. It includes two of the bigger movie stars working today in John David Washington and Zendaya, and there seemed to be a lot of buzz going into this film. From what I have noticed since its wide release on February 5th is overwhelmingly negative, but not entirely for the reason, I would have thought.
Every negative review about this film that I have seen has to do with the viewers’ disdain towards writer and filmmaker Sam Levinson, and not the narrative that occurs within the film. To me, this type of criticism is not a fair way to go about critiquing films or art in general. The overwhelming amount of reviews and critiques seem to be putting the contents of the story as a secondary element and critiquing the film almost solely on who wrote and directed this film.
To me, that’s a severe discredit to the story that puts forth a couple airing out their grievances with one another, which feels rather authentic and real to the audience. It shows two people that are in love, or at the very least have been in love in the past and how any two people who do love each other go through extremely rough and messy patches in their relationships. It’s a film that presents relationship questions, but it doesn’t lead you to a direct answer; it lets the audience sit with what the characters are going through. It’s a reflection of reality and a very honest one.
A lot of the criticism towards Levinson points to the idea that he uses John David Washington as a mouthpiece for his personal experience with the critics, and I just don’t see how some people see it as that. It paints John David Washington’s character, Malcolm, as a toxic center point, not as some character that can do no wrong. It displays his toxic masculinity at the forefront of the story. Yet, so many see it as this self-reflection that Levinson is saying that he’s beyond criticism, and I’m just not sure how audiences are coming to that conclusion. He is not written in the way where he is perceived as the protagonist; he comes off as clearly the opposite.
Malcolm & Marie is just the latest film to go through this type of discourse where people feel like they have to choose a side of the film that is good or bad and die on that hill. There’s seemingly no middle ground, and people seem to be choosing a side based on who made the film and not the actual quality of the film. Now, Malcolm & Marie certainly has its flaws, but it’s not this steaming pile of garbage that so many are making it out to be either. There is a common ground to be had where you can like films from filmmakers you don’t like on a personal level. Much of the negativity towards this film has been directed towards having a hatred and disdain towards Levinson, and that’s the worst way to approach film criticism.
In the film community, I think we have to come to a point where the critiques are not so black and white where it’s one hundred percent good and bad, and we can have honest discussions about films without creating a toxic environment. It’s certainly okay to not like something, but constantly going into and picking apart a film just because you don’t like a director or writer sounds exhausting and begs the question, why even watch it in the first place? Now, I am not saying that people should not review and critique films, but when you make it out to be this personal attack towards a filmmaker and not about the story, that’s where the critiques become disingenuous.
As I mentioned before, I think that Malcolm & Marie has some flaws in the writing, but I honestly think if you go into this film with an open mind, you’ll probably enjoy it for its worth.