Mr. Malcolm’s List tries its best to adapt a very typical “snatch and replace” storyline from modern romantic comedies. While the plot isn’t bad, it’s the method to the madness of implementing said plot that fails miserably. The film revolves around Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) and her friend Selina (Freida Pinto) as Julia schemes to get back at Mr. Malcolm (Sope Dirisu). Their goal? Make Malcolm fall in love with Selina, and in turn have her scorn him at the final stage of their courtship with a similar list.
With a film completely led by women in the director’s, writer’s, and producer’s chairs, I had high hopes. Mr. Malcolm’s List would work to a better adaptation typically. After all, the book’s author Suzanne Allain provided the film’s screenplay. However, that is where the issues lie. There are some severe pacing issues, with plot-focused scenes rushed, and fun, simple scenes drawn out. This is in an attempt to give character development to Julia and Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). But since they are the most aggravating characters in Mr. Malcolm’s List, it’s not like the erratic momentum is a benefit.
I don’t have a problem with characters who are full of themselves like Julia is. There are great ways to develop those characters, and make them presentable, still full of abrasive characteristics. But there’s a difference between a watchable unlikable character and an unwatchable one, and this often slides into the latter. You could argue that these characters are there, as they are to devote focus to the main couple. Nevertheless, they absolutely distract. I don’t think that boils down to Ashton or Jackson-Cohen’s performance. It’s largely the script, as it all depends on the material they have. Or maybe it’s due to Emma Holly Jones being a first-time feature director, who knows?
On the bright side, our main couple is delightful. Pinto is my new favorite actress, the queen of my heart, and Dirisu is captivating as a leading man. When on-screen together, on their own, or together they shine. When separated, we run into nonsensical ways to portray friendship and love on screen. It’s as if there was an attempt to modify the scenes to make it appear like modern times, with everyone dressed out in 1800s fashion.
Overall, this movie greatly saddens me. It tries to be a period comedy instead of a period romantic comedy, including taking the perfect opportunity to showcase a wedding scene and throwing it out the window. Ultimately, it’s overwhelmed by bad characters and rushed scenes that take away from some truly phenomenal stars that need more attention. This plot has been done well before, I don’t know why this one couldn’t have achieved even some minimal success. – Katie Rentschler
Mr. Malcolm’s List is now in theaters.