Malcolm & Marie, the arty film Zendaya and John David Washington shot in secret with Euphoria creator Sam Levinson, is coming to Netflix on February 5. While much about the specifics of the plot remains secret, we can at least deduce from the trailer that it centers on Zendaya’s character’s tempestuous relationship with a paramour whose name has all the letters M, A, C in his name. We’re talking, of course, about that fickle late-night lover: boxed mac and cheese.
In the trailer, Zendaya prepares some mac and cheese in a sleek, modern California kitchen in a house away from the city, all while fighting with John David Washington — a tertiary character, one assumes, after the macaroni — and wearing a frankly gorgeous dress with a lot of exposed skin. There’s an interplay of danger in the act, given that she has to boil water, and I feel for the risks she assumed on set, given that I have a scar from pouring hot tea on myself while wearing a tank top earlier this week. “Mystery,” Zendaya announces in voice-over while pouring the pasta from a box into a bubbling pot of water. “The unknown, it’s what supports the tension of a relationship.”
Then, incongruously, the trailer shows Zendaya whacking open a stick of butter, which feels like something she would only get around to doing minutes later when the pasta is finished and the cheesy sauce is ready to be made. I can only hope that this is meant to reveal that Marie has a weird cooking process or that the continuity error is addressed in the final cut. Anyway.
As Marie argues with Malcolm, who insists that she is angry — Yes, obviously, why make boxed mac and cheese in a calm emotional state? — she pours out the macaroni into a colander, bounces it a few times, and glares at Malcolm. The sound of hot water whistling elsewhere implies that the two of them plan to pair their mac and cheese with tea (or that the trailer editor thought the whistle sound would be cool — either one).
It’s a deeply glamorous act that inspires many questions. Foremost among them: Where did she put the pasta after she carried the colander away from the sink? Is she using another pot or bowl for the cheese sauce? Why, when that first saucepan looked very good and expensive? Marie! So wasteful about kitchen mess. I assume this is another key character trait.
From there, the trailer abandons the mac and cheese for some intense black-and-white glowering about the relationship dynamics of this human couple that I care less about. But then! We briefly return to the mac and cheese as we see Marie transporting a pan and twirling with Malcolm in a triptych.
Clearly this is a religious experience for them. And it offers an opportunity to get a closer look at the specific brand Zendaya is preparing, which I zoomed in on for the sake of thorough mac-and-cheese journalism. At first, I had assumed that Malcolm and Marie would be Annie’s people, because they seem a little pretentious, but that big ’roni curl is pretty unmistakable: This is a Kraft box.
There you have it. Malcolm & Marie is a seductive ode to the thrill of making cheap, quick pasta dishes, coming to you on Netflix, presumably sponsored by the Kraft Heinz corporation.
An important post-release update:
Now that Malcolm & Marie is out in the world, we all have the chance to weigh in on the most important critical conversation of all: How good is Zendaya’s mac-and-cheese technique, really?
It’s pretty good! The film’s opening scene is all built around her making the cheesy pasta in a huff. It does resolve the discontinuity from the trailer, since the butter isn’t cut until later, and the characters do refer to it explicitly as Kraft mac and cheese in the dialogue. So congrats to Kraft. The film even brings up the title card over the completed bowl of mac and cheese, confirming that it is the most important character in the movie.
Some confusing moments linger, however. Zendaya asks Washington, as he is on his knees trying to eat her out, whether he would prefer she use salted or unsalted butter. If she has already salted the pasta water, and there’s some saltiness in the sauce packet, is she concerned it’s still not salty enough? Just how salty does he like his mac and cheese to be? Does that preference change night to night? Does she keep large amounts of different kinds of butter on hand?
The thing that really stuck with me about the mac and cheese, however, is that Zendaya arrives back at their very fancy house and starts cooking, announcing that she’s very hungry. But then! She pours it all into one bowl, which Washington eats angrily while the two of them berate each other. At what point did she decide she didn’t actually want the macaroni she was making? It’s one thing to split the serving in half and then ignore it because you’re angry, but there’s only one bowl! Is this a metaphor for the way he takes advantage of her experience for his art while ignoring her needs? Later on, as their arguments continue, we see the empty bowl of mac and cheese on the table, which he doesn’t even take to the dishwasher. I fixated on this because I spent the rest of the movie wondering if she might be happier if she (a) left this relationship and (b) actually got to eat something.