There’s something scary about the mere thought that what you’re witnessing in Queen & Slim could be very well happening today. Yet there’s a greater resonance that comes forth from how the stories of many black lives across the United States have been immortalized – most often not for their achievements, but as symbols against racism after their lives have unjustly been cut short. In this feature debut from music video director Melina Matsoukas, Queen & Slim tells a story of a modern day Bonnie & Clyde – lovers who are on the run from the law, after having been thrusted into a life or death situation. What soon follows is a harrowing, if occasionally frustrating tale of life or death, with a dash of social relevance within today’s political climate.
Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith star as the titular Queen and Slim, an African-American couple who met one another through Tinder. On their first date, they are pulled over by a police officer after a minor offence at a traffic stop. After the police officer ends up becoming more aggressive, he is later killed by the couple in an act of self-defence. Now, with the couple who had just met on the run, Queen & Slim tells a story of survival by any means necessary – at the hands of a political uprising in the United States, with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. It becomes clear the more we spend time with the couple on the run that this is so much more than a tale of their survival in a world that’s running after them every moment they have, but ultimately it also turns a relevant message into something so highly frustrating too.
If you’re familiar with the music videos directed by Melina Matsoukas, you’d already know that she has a great visual style and it’s nice to see that same approach transition to the bigger screen. While her efforts behind the camera are highly commendable, it also feels as if she is also being held back by the both the writing and the message she seeks to deliver to the audiences. Being a film that feels so highly informed by the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s hard to expect something very subtle (not to say that this is a bad thing), but it also carries a stinted quality to it as well. The central conflict remains as tense as ever at Matsoukas’s own hands, but what also should be a more impactful look at the immortalization of black citizens at the hands of racism often insinuated by white police officers never reaches those heights to a frustrating degree.
As one can expect, the pairing of Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith is every bit as dreamy as you can imagine. Reliably great as always, Kaluuya is a stunner – but Jodie Turner-Smith is revelatory in her first leading role in a feature film. The two of them have a remarkable chemistry together with one another, even if the script they’re working with unfortunately brings them down. There’s a lot that the two of them are able to work around with the idea that they are the African-American Bonnie & Clyde, but with how much this story finds itself wearing its own influences on its sleeves, it soon finds itself in a more stinted state: whatever sort of push the film aims for with its social commentary never finds itself reaching those same heights.
Going back to the film’s Bonnie & Clyde influences, perhaps there’s also a sense of inevitability that shows up for the story of Queen & Slim. Even as it was clear that the fates of its two leads were inevitable, it’s hard enough for me to feel as if the film carried the impact that it was aiming for when the film more often than not feels like it’s meandering as Queen and Slim are heading from place to place with trying to ensure their survival. As it attempts to comment on the relationships between black citizens and black police officers, the message finds itself becoming all the more confused. But ultimately, the biggest problem with the film is just that everything feels like it is playing itself too safe, which results in a more frustrating affair than desired.
There’s a great film that could easily have been made with a premise like this, given the social relevance that it carries within today’s world – and Queen & Slim is undoubtedly entertaining, but it feels as if it still remains very frustrating. It feels like it wants to tap into many interesting areas of discussion but never really finds the sort of footing that would have allowed it to carry a greater impact overall. I’m looking forward to what Melina Matsoukas has for the future as a film director but where I felt like I should have left feeling great stress knowing how much of this can mirror our reality, I can’t help but feel as if it never breaks enough new ground in order to make this tale of survival more gripping. This is a story that absolutely deserves to be told, because of the way black citizens’ lives have been immortalized at the hands of racism, but Queen & Slim never really lands fully, despite being undoubtedly entertaining.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Universal Pictures.
Directed by Melina Matsoukas
Screenplay by Lena Waithe
Produced by James Frey, Lena Waithe, Melina Matsoukas, Michelle Knudsen, Andrew Coles, Brad Weston, Pamela Abdy
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine, Chloë Sevigny, Flea, Sturgill Simpson, Indya Moore
Release Date: November 27, 2019
Running Time: 132 minutes