Directed by: Melina Matsoukas
Premise: A young African American couple (Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith) go on the run after a routine traffic stop goes bad and a police officer is killed. When the dashcam footage is released, the couple becomes activist icons.
What Works: Queen & Slim is about two people flung together by circumstance and their intertwined fates lead to a tragic love story. The romance succeeds primarily because of the performances by actors Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith. When the movie opens, these two don’t like each other. They’re on a date but it isn’t going anywhere but the two of them must go on the run together when Kaluuya’s character kills an overzealous police officer. From there, Queen & Slim becomes a road trip movie and Kaluuya and Turner-Smith’s characters gradually fall for each other. Their love story is believable and engaging with the characters bonded by tragedy and gradually learning about one another. Queen & Slim is also filled with colorful supporting characters, especially Queen’s uncle played by Bokeem Woodbine. The trajectory of the title characters’ journey and the people they meet along the way makes Queen & Slim a story about black identity and the film offers a lot to unpack in the way it questions what it means to be authentic and how identities are shaped by personal and cultural trauma as well as social expectations. Queen & Slim is also well shot. The road trip portion of the movie offers opportunities for picturesque vistas in which the characters are juxtaposed against the vast landscape.
What Doesn’t: The pacing of Queen & Slim is frequently sluggish throughout the middle of the film. The movie has a lot of downtime between major events and while that gives Queen & Slim the space to breathe and focus on its characters, the filmmakers don’t get much out of those slowdown periods. Queen & Slim has a lot of unlikely plot twists. The characters get from one place to another pretty easily despite the fact that they are subjects of a nationwide manhunt. The film’s racial politics are especially weak. The interrogation of black identity is interesting and Queen & Slim offers a lot to consider on that front but this is also a Black Lives Matter movie and in that regard it comes up short. This aspect of Queen & Slim is shallow and simplistic, sometimes to the point of absurdity. The film works through the images and arguments that have been seen in recent news stories and in other Black Lives Matter movies but it doesn’t add anything to them. The premise puts the movie in a position to comment upon the way victims are turned into effigies but Queen & Slim only deals with that idea superficially.
Bottom Line: Queen & Slim is unwieldy and occasionally meandering but the film is carried by the likable performances of Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith. Whatever its shortcomings as a political tract, Queen & Slim succeeds in its primary role as a love story.
Episode: #779 (December 8, 2019)