How to quantify one’s own perception of truth in art?
That lede describes two aspects of Malcolm & Marie: one of its themes, AND my tempered response to the movie (now available on Netfux).
Can a piece of art touch upon truth without feeling true? Malcolm and Marie revolving-doors its way through truthy ideas, character insights, emotions, etc. etc. etc. And yet, the movie doesn’t ring true as a whole.
Now, truth is not an objective virtue in art; artificiality can be deployed in the service of mining deep truths that seeming naturalism might obscure, or can’t sufficiently express.
Which raises a similar question: can a movie address deep topics, utilizing a formal structure that can bear depth, with style open to deep interpretations, without actually being/feeling deep? Is there a difference between being and feeling, if artistic quality resides in the eye of the beholder? To riff on Descartes: the audience thinks, therefore the art is?
As always, I have no answers to these queries, probably because irrefutable answers don’t exist here. Which is why I’m simply sharing my unresolved, lingering (and maybe simplistic?) doubts about the movie, and about the validity of my own response to it. Because as a work of artistic expression, I just didn’t buy Malcom & Marie. I was thoroughly engaged throughout in figuring out why that was the case, and engagement is always something. But on its own terms, the movie didn’t do a lot for me, nor to me. There’s much to admire, but perhaps more in aspiration than execution.
Thus concludes John David Washington week on Write All Nite.
Postscript 1: The interweb discourse surrounding Malcolm & Marie has been rife with a pet-peeve criticism of mine: likening the movie to nothing more — HOW ABOUT “AND NOTHING LESS”, YOU PHILISTINES!!! Sorry, where was I? — than a play. Cool. But like. Is it a good play?? What if we stop using “live theatre” as a pejorative categorization without actually wrestling with the particulars of the medium itself? Thanks.
P.S. 2 (sounds like a Public School in NYC): We love to idealize artists writing roles specifically for certain actors, which has obvious benefits … but sometimes it inhibits the actor from flaunting the full capacity of their range. Zendaya’s the highlight of Malcolm & Marie, yet it all feels very within her wheelhouse, because Sam Levinson knew the tools in her wheelhouse when crafting the character, with her collaboration. But an actor meeting a role where the role already lives, instead of preordaining the location with the creator directly, can force them out of their comfort zone. And through this interplay, the character can transcend the inherently-limited intent of its credited author; that’s where other sorts of unexpected alchemy can ignite.