Sam Levinson’s shouty and repulsive discussion heavy novelty, disguises itself in an art house, future media student glorification piece. Two actors that are quickly becoming the hot topics in their field, elevate Levinson’s sybaritic slog high above water as to not let the material drown in its own straining self indulgence.
It’s a big night for Malcolm (John David Washington). A young aspiring filmmaker, who’s passion project just opened up to critic exposure, prompting sweet success upon waiting for first wave responses. Malcom, joined by girlfriend Marie (Zendaya), first appear elated after receiving verbal praise for their efforts, but what should have been a night of celebration turns to a night of battling emotions, as the pair argue their point of views on their relationship. As the debate gets darker, so does the evening around them, as each discussion spirals to levels beyond discomfort.
Having an argument with a loved one is exhausting enough, let alone having to witness fictional characters do exactly that for over an hour and a half. Levinson’s lethargic ‘love’ project relies solely on the acting talents of his leading (and only) actors. The narratively empty feature, shows the toxicity and insecurities within this relationship whilst poking holes into the world of film criticism. We meet our challenging couple as they enter the room of a beautiful house that they were put up in, by the production company, and spend every single moment with them here.
There’s some really impressive pieces of dialogue scattered throughout its heavy script. Both Malcom and Marie pull no punches and even if it does often feel unpleasant, John David Washington and Zendaya really do put in the work to provide some incredible moments, especially in the later stages of the film.
The biggest issue I have with this movie, and it’s one that I’m seeing come up often in other peoples verdicts, is that Levinson makes it incredibly difficult to care for either of these characters, and as they are not only the main but only focus, it become quite the chore to sit through.
Washington’s Malcolm is, to put it quite simply, an asshole. He’s incredibly self centred and you come to realise very early on that this night is all about him. Not only letting us as the audience know it, but his girlfriend Marie too. He’s self-assured and manipulative, and as he slanders the critics who he is yet to even hear from in regards to his ‘masterpiece’, he monologues endlessly about how they mistook his work for different meanings and genuinely believes he’s Gods gift to filmmaking.
As for Marie, well she comes with an awful lot of baggage. Malcolm makes the mistake of leaving her out of his speech ahead of the premiere and she simply won’t let him forget it. Even increasing the fuel to the fire at every point the argument seems to be cooling off. Consistently rehashing the issue and even revealing troubling backstory of the pair which once again you struggle to find any real sympathy.
It’s a concept that truly allows the only actors on board to display their talents in a way that they haven’t before. Void of an intriguing narrative, Sam Levinson sets up camera, flips the colour grading to black and white (matching the mood of the movie) and just allows his acting talent to take control of the script.
It has already proved to be a divisive film so far, especially given the pedestal this Netflix original was placed on before release after seeing the talent involved. It’s a film likely to be more appreciated by film connoisseurs than the occasional movie viewer. It’s never easy to sit through and even with a runtime that in todays day and age isn’t as challenging as most, but given the context of its singular scenario, can still feel like a lifetime of passing to reach its finale. What will more than likely pull you through though is the incredible and almost flawless performances of its stars. Both of which would receive no surprises to me if they were to receive nominations in the upcoming awards season.