I watched the newly released QUEEN & SLIM well over a week and a half ago, and because of its content – especially its ending – I am still unraveling and digesting my thoughts on the film. With that in mind, and against normal site policy, there will be slight spoilers in this quick review, so proceed with caution.
At the surface, the movie is a “Bonnie & Clyde” type of tale, based on a premise shared by its producer James Frey (A Million Little Pieces, My Friend Leonard) with its writer/executive producer Lena Waithe (The Chi, Master of None) – for which Frey receives a “story by” credit. However, “Queen & Slim,” in the same vein of many African-American films from the 70’s, is an unapologetically Black story -that was as strikingly beautiful to watch on the large screen as it was anxiety-ridden to surmise what the ending held for the titular characters.
On a first date that goes horribly wrong, for several reasons including the cold attitude displayed by Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith), Slim (Academy-award nominee Daniel Kaluuya) is pulled over for a minor traffic violation while driving Queen home. The traffic stop escalates, and the officer is killed in self-defense. Instead of calling authorities, Queen – a defense attorney who’s worked with her share of wrongfully or unfairly accused clients – convinces Slim to go on the run. Unbeknownst to them, the event is captured on the officer’s dash cam and quickly becomes viral. With the authorities in pursuit, the two journey on a multi-state run, while forging a bond and attempting to escape the country.
For me, there was a comfort in viewing this film first with a primarily African-American audience – having a collective knowing and understanding of certain moments (slight spoiler, i.e. when the duo realize they are recognized at a lounge, yet no one there intends to call police), and the rapturous applause that erupted as unexpected actions appeared to work out in Queen and Slim’s favor.
Waithe wrote a story in which the leads were forced to self-reflect – Queen being described as an atheist and Slim highly spiritual – while challenging each other’s core views and ultimately find love in the midst of life or death circumstances.
But the weight of the police brutality topic, and the current reality of watching the news or viral videos of so many Black people dying at the hands of police, made it difficult for me to accept some parts and fully digest it as a love story.
I also had an uncomfortably visceral response to one scene – spoiler alert – where a young male character is used to demonstrate how the couple’s actions not only sparked protest, but incited unnecessary violence and death. Having lost a family member to unwarranted violence less than three weeks prior, it was another reminder of the reality from which I was seeking to possibly escape.
With that being said, the movie is a stunning visual by first time feature film director Melina Matsoukas, who’s known for her direction of hit and Grammy award-winning videos (including Beyonce’s “Formation) and Emmy award-winning work on “Master of None.” And the film’s soundtrack is perfectly placed, giving temporal solace and allowing the audience a bit of sweet with the bitter that’s presented.
Speaking of perfect placement, I thought the casting was remarkable – including veteran character actor Bokeem Woodbine (Wu-Tang: An American Saga, Overlord), who appears to have found the fountain of youth and not aged in over a decade. And although I thought Turner-Smith’s Queen was a whole mess for much of the film, Smith was a force that made me still root for Queen, who wasn’t the most likable, to overcome and escape her predicament.
At its best, “Queen and Slim” is a cinematic stunner that achieves the goal of representation, especially with two dark-skinned African American leads, expanding the array of Black perspective in film, while highlighting a topic that is timely and relevant. However, for me personally, the film’s ending left much to be desired after journeying with and cheering for the characters and, although I think it’s believable, leaves the viewer with no true escape. I rate QUEEN & SLIM 3 out of 5 beats on the MMTrometer.
Until next thought, Thomasena
Queen & Slim
IN THEATERS NOW
From two-time Grammy award winning director Melina Matsoukas, the visionary filmmaker behind this generation’s most powerful pop-culture experiences, including HBO’s Insecure, the Emmy award-winning “Thanksgiving” episode of Netflix’s Master of None, and Beyonce’s “Formation,” and from trailblazing, Emmy-winning writer Lena Waithe (Netflix’s Master of None), comes the unflinching new drama, Queen & Slim.
While on a forgettable first date together in Ohio, a black man (Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya) and a black woman (Jodie Turner-Smith, in her first starring feature-film role), are pulled over for a minor traffic infraction. The situation escalates, with sudden and tragic results, when the man kills the police officer in self-defense. Terrified and in fear for their lives, the man, a retail employee, and the woman, a criminal defense lawyer, are forced to go on the run. But the incident is captured on video and goes viral, and the couple unwittingly become a symbol of trauma, terror, grief and pain for people across the country.
Cast & Crew
|Daniel Kaluuya, Chloë Sevigny, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine, Flea, Sturgill Simpson, Indya Moore|
|James Frey and Lena Waithe|
|James Frey, Lena Waithe p.g.a., Melina Matsoukas p.g.a., Michelle Knudsen p.g.a., Andrew C. Coles, Brad Weston, Pamela Abdy p.g.a.|
|Pamela Hirsch, Daniel Kaluuya, Aaron L. Gilbert, Jason Cloth|