Queen & Slim is a road trip experience unlike any other in 2019 that explores family, society, legacy and a sense of never feeling completely safe as a black person in America.
After a challenging and tense first date Slim (Daniel Kaluua, Black Panther) and Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) are preparing to end their night. A nightcap isn’t in the cards and a second date is looking equally dicey. Everything changes when an antagonistic — note, not explicitly racist — cop stops them for some minor traffic violations. Tensions gradually raise and the end result is the cop is dead and Queen and Slim are fugitives on the run.
Their best bet? Making a beeline to Cuba stat.
To tell this specific story, screenwriter Lena Waithe crafted a complete lack of urgency. Factoring in sleep, bathroom and food breaks, let’s say the trip from Ohio to Miami takes 24 hours.
Given their faces are all over the newspaper and on constant rotation on the TV news cycle moving as quickly as possible had to be the priority. Queen knows enough to ditch their phones and not call anyone, but they both constantly kill time as if they’re heading to a work trip instead of trying to literally run for their lives.
While it’s great for the ambiance and allows them to meet a slew of colorful and nuanced characters the obvious approach here was to get out of the country before they went viral.
That’s easily my biggest issue with the film although a protest against police violence came off more like a visceral statement than a genuine moment. Factor in that scene’s payoff and the message felt like it was garbled.
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The ending is never really in doubt and I think I would have liked it more if Queen & Slim were more aggressive about their eventual destiny. Legacy is a big discussion point throughout and rather than being reduced to murals and T-shirts, it could have been more powerful for Queen & Slim to be more antagonistic towards the system that recklessly forced them to be outlaws.
Maybe some YouTube messages or Instagram stories shared through their admirers. Queen was a defense attorney and it could have been interesting to see her making a case for their plight throughout.
Instead, Waithe’s script treats their trek like a road trip where they casually explore the local flavor with the occasional reminder they’re now outlaws. That works out in Director Melina Matsoukas’ (Beyonce’s Formation video) favor as she’s able to create a cool, colorful and stylish escapist world for the duo that’s both captivating and terrifying. Waithe does wisely include scenes featuring folks who aren’t on Team Queen and Slim and the complicated mindset of black police officers who could too easily be viewed as being on the “wrong side” in these scenarios.
In those moments where I wasn’t anticipating a SWAT team to come charging in at any second, it was easy to appreciate the atmosphere of a juke joint or a drive along the coastline. Matsoukas takes you in as if you’re riding along in the backseat for this nerve-rattling experience. But the best moments are those occasions where Queen and Slim drop their pretenses and facades and are intimately real with one another.
Naturally these are some of Kaluuya and Turner-Smith’s best scenes. Kaluuya has proven himself to be a top tier talent regardless of the role. This is another firm reminder that Kaluuya is poised to be one of the biggest stars over the next decade if presented the right material.
Turner-Smith was more of a surprise as her authenticity and poise makes her hard to turn away from in any scene. Bokeem Woodbine also has some surprisingly strong scenes in a cameo role.
Queen & Slim isn’t flawless, but it helps make the ride more memorable as the audience can just fully take in and absorb the trip without questioning are we there yet?
Rating: 8 out of 10
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures