Queen & Slim is one of those recent dramas that will leave you thinking about when it’s all over. Whether it comes from the performances, the fact that this is helmed by a female African American director or the social commentary message that will convey something important in our society. Even if it’s not the most perfect movie out there, I sense the feeling it will gain more attention as life continues.
What’s the Story: Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) have just gone through a first date where it didn’t appear the most memorable one they’ve gone on. While driving her back home after an unsuccessful evening, Slim gets pulled over by a police officer after a “failure to execute a turn signal,” but it doesn’t appear a resentful way of dealing with what’s happening. Slim fires a shot at the officer and fled the scene, leaving both of them to go on the run as fugitives as a possible manhunt for them was just the beginning.
Melina Matsoukas makes her directorial debut, as the Grammy-winner is well-known for directing music videos for Rihanna’s “We Found Love” and Beyoncé’s “Formation,” and she’s reunited with screenwriter Lena Waithe after helming the Emmy-winning Master of None episode “Thanksgiving.” Those two combined already made for an interesting pair to push forward a drama that closely resembles a black version of Bonnie and Clyde and/or Thelma And Louise to some. I was curious to check this out after the trailers. While Queen & Slim won’t be considered as one of the year’s best, this was pretty enjoyable.
The best thing going for this film was truly relying on the performances between its two leads. Stars Kaluuya and newcomer Turner-Smith worked so well together, and they share a ton of screen time too. These two characters are when they aren’t a couple but need to stay together and not get caught by the law, even though they’ve suffered through a forgettable date and having certain differences but still have to protect one another after dealing with what they’ve gotten themselves into. After his Oscar-nominated performance in Get Out, Kaluuya is a name that will get me to watch a movie because he has so much range with the roles he’s given. Plus, I keep forgetting he’s British, cause his American accent is spot on. Turner-Smith hasn’t been in anything memorable in the past before this, but I’m happy to say she will surely get more roles after this because she was terrific.
While the other supporting cast doesn’t have a lot of screen time like Bokeem Woodbine as Queen’s Uncle Earl, and Chloë Sevigny, and Flea as this white couple who helps them along the way, they still weren’t bad for their limited screen time.
Matsoukas’ style of direction throughout looked almost laid back since she was working on a pretty small budget for a studio film and it didn’t have any scenes that looked expensive to shoot. It’s beautifully shot with the help of cinematographer Tat Radcliffe. What we see is essentially a road trip of the two of them escaping from the law from a route from Ohio to Florida without getting into trouble. The pace doesn’t become a real problem when talking about the first and third acts, but there was only one scene in the middle where they go dancing that slowed down during that scene. It was a chance for Queen and Slim to take it slow and experience a second date if something happens to them. All that said, for her feature debut, I’m curious to see what she has in store next.
This is coming out at a time where America has been seeing more of this devastating news of African Americans being gunned down by police when they’ve been wrongfully accused. Waithe doesn’t beat you over the head with this situation. However, I wanted the story to be a little more powerful where I should deeply be connected with how the world perceives these two characters. There was one scene that personally didn’t feel right to include about police brutality, and the way it ended made me question if that was the right decision. I’d say the movie that touched on this subject better was the underrated film The Hate U Give, and that stayed with me after it came out that made me realize how divided we are in this country when it comes to this issue. If this was inspired by a true story, I wouldn’t be shocked if it was, but a part of me wished Waithe’s script was better executed in its narrative. The outcome of everything that happened was what I expected.
There isn’t a lot of action in this since this is a crime drama, and there aren’t scenes of shootouts since this focuses on the relationship between the two and how life will be different after what they’ve done. Intensity comes through when they are trying to not get caught. But also know that there will be moments of them stopping somewhere when they need to keep going.
All in all, Queen & Slim presented a message that was clear enough but didn’t feel as powerful as I thought it would be, I gotta give a lot of credit to Matsoukas first time directing a film and the performances/ chemistry between Kaluuya and Turner-Smith. This isn’t the kind of drama that would’ve been highly talked about around this past awards season or the kind that will be talked about in a negative light with its subject matter, but it’s worth the watch if you’ve been looking forward to this.