Black love matters. Black love stories matter. Black actors matter. Black films matter. There will be spoilers. -JBHarris
I believe the world is sleeping on the John David Washington!
The world must be sleeping on Zendaya!
I am old enough to remember, and quote the FUBU classic, love jones. As I watched this movie, I took that experience of remembering Darius Lovehall and Nina Mosely. With that said, I knew I was going to like this movie from the way Marie (Zendaya) walked in the door after Malcolm’s (John David) movie premiere! The black and white cinematography adds a depth to this movie, and forces you to pay attention! And did I pay attention!
Chile, let’s go!
Malcolm is a driven, burgeoning filmmaker and director. Marie is his supportive girlfriend, whom is a recovering addict. They are in this gorgeous glass house, and supposed to be celebrating the movie premiere, IMANI. Malcolm is on Cloud 9, and Marie is clearly upset. Malcolm is beaming, as Marie makes box macaroni and cheese for him. But the thing is this. If you have never been in a relationship with a person that you are trying to stay with and unsure how, you will miss the subtle things. I knew it was going to be ON when Marie chopped that cold butter to make the macaroni and cheese! I have been in love with someone that takes you for granted, but you keep trying on the hope that will be enough! That rage comes out in small ways, and then you get asked, “What’s wrong with you?” And you are quiet. Oh, when I tell you! I have been Marie. More than once.
As he eats his macaroni and cheese, he says, “Marie, you are genuinely unstable.” This is after he asks her what was wrong with her, and she tells me nothing. Marie tells Malcolm that she doesn’t want to argue, and that nothing good would come from them arguing tonight. Again, this is something that if you have not been in a relationship like this, you don’t notice. Marie is legit asking not to fight–but yet, doesn’t back down from one!
It is clear that Malcolm loves Marie, but he doesn’t quite no how to love her. As they fight and try and make up through the course of what Malcolm calls, ‘the biggest night of my life’ they are at each other! The quote that Marie said that was jarring was this, “How do you see me? ” The thing is this, Malcolm forgot to thank her in his speech following the movie. While Malcolm doesn’t really see this as a problem, and throws a ‘thank you’ at her–but still called her ‘unstable’ as he at the macaroni and cheese that she made!
The fights are visceral! I mean, in the bathtub scene I had never so badly wanted to slap fire from someone until I got tired! I saw this one-upping from both of them. Zendaya calls him verbally abusive, and he brushes it off! She calls him mediocre, and when she goes to take her bath? He asks her what she meant about him being ‘mediocre’. Marie said he’s being irrational–he asked her this after being outside knocking on the window of the bathroom! Malcolm then comes in the bathroom, and starts to rip her apart. He tells her, “You’re trying to justify your motherfucking existence,” saying she sees herself in everything. The thing that made me so angry was when he said this, “I can hurt you, Marie. I can snap you like a twig. You’re a Level 1 boss.” And said this to the woman he loves! The woman he called the love of his life! He then goes on to tell her that Imani is not based on her–she’s a composite of his exes. What does Marie do? Sits in the tub, trying not to be there. Trying to let him now how hurt she was.
What I saw in this movie is this need for control in this relationship, and it almost boarders on co-dependence. One starts the argument, and walks away thinking they have the upper hand. Only to have the one who was verbally assaulted come back with something more hurtful! I saw Marie trying to be the woman she thinks he needs, only to have him expect her to be there! Slick demanding that she be there! Malcolm reminds her of what he has done for her, and Marie reminds him of this same! There is this impasse they keep adjusting for and it is seen in the positions of the actors–and everything Malcolm tries to be intimate with her, she plays along only to stop. This is a reminder, fellas: sex doesn’t fix anything, but it does get your attention.
Marie calls what Malcolm does ‘steamrolling.’ It helps him to commit to his art, not take ‘No’ for an answer. She tells him that need to steamroll comes from him not being able to conceive that someone could be more interesting than him. Marie tells him that while that is great, it is detrimental to their relationship! As the movie ends, she tells him why it hurt so much for her to not be thanked in his speech. She goes on to say, “You never stop to ask how can I be a better partner?”, referencing how he talked to her in the bathroom. Marie then details exactly why thanking her was important–it made her feel loved, seen and validated! What I saw in the dynamic between Malcolm and Marie is she was more invested than he was. Malcolm loves her, but he feels what he is doing is enough, not considering if it really is!
This is not a struggle love story. It is not a relationship based and birthed by trauma. It is two people trying to be together, share a space, and exist together. One not being seen in the hope that in ‘doing enough’ will get them seen. Marie loves him enough to tell him when he is wrong. Malcolm loves Marie enough to try and be better, and reaffirm to her that he does love her, even if he doesn’t get it right.
What I believe can be taken way from this it is easy to take people you love for granted, and no one can quite hurt you like someone you love. Vulnerability is a weapon and a safety in relationships, and as the movie ends he finds Marie outside. When she was outside before, he couldn’t find her. Now, he sees her–when she thought he couldn’t before. The movie left me with hope. Marie is not a pushover, and Malcolm isn’t giving up–so they might be able to make it.
Black characters deserve the opportunity to start again, and be in love when they do it.