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Zendaya and John David Washington star in Malcolm & Marie.NETFLIX © 2021/Netflix

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  • Malcolm & Marie
  • Written and directed by Sam Levinson
  • Starring John David Washington and Zendaya
  • Classification R; 106 minutes

In his breakthrough feature film, 2018′s dark comedy Assassination Nation, director Sam Levinson kicked things off with a series of on-screen “trigger warnings.” Meaning: don’t watch my movie if you want to avoid exposure to drugs, violence, racism, transphobia, etc. It was a blunt gag aimed at pearl-clutching wokesters and ended up being the best joke in the whole movie. But sincere or not, I could have used a trigger warning ahead of Levinson’s follow-up, the turgid, unbearable new relationship drama Malcolm & Marie.

Shot during lockdown with only two actors on-screen the entire time, Levinson’s film follows one excruciatingly long night in the life of director Malcolm (Tenet’s John David Washington) and his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya, star of Levinson’s HBO series Euphoria). Returning home after the premiere of Malcolm’s latest movie, the couple engage in a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?-esque standoff that touches on everything from addiction to jealousy to race to the stupidity of film critics. (That’s okay, we can take it.)

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The film chronicles one troubled night in the lives of the titular couple.DOMINIC MILLER/NETFLIX © 2021/Netflix

Perhaps this was all extremely interesting and useful to Levinson as a pandemic-era therapeutic exercise, but to suffer through its actualization is something else. To make things short, because Levinson cannot: Malcolm & Marie is the worst kind of self-indulgent nonsense. It is an obnoxious gripe about everything and anything that is so devoid of wit and imagination that it ends up being about nothing at all.

Sure, the black-and-white cinematography by Marcell Rév is handsomely realized. Washington and Zendaya each get one standout extra-long moment where they demonstrate how far they can push bad material (and how many lines they can memorize), and there is one solid riff about newspaper website paywalls. But when Marie exclaims, late in the film, that she “can’t argue like this any more!”, I felt that deep in my bones. Triggered, even.

Malcolm & Marie is available to stream on Netflix starting Feb. 5

In the interest of consistency, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s choice designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)

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