Director: Melina Matsoukas
Writers: Lena Waithe (screenplay by), James Frey (story by)
Stars: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine
If you think you’ve had bad first dates, Queen & Slim will refine the term for you.
Like everyone, I’ve had a few dates that didn’t go quite like as planned. Either these ladies weren’t impressed by my inherent charm or fewer women enjoy an evening of Natty Ice & skeet shooting than I once assumed. But at least none of those dates ended with the two of us on-the-lam after shooting a cop.
Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) aren’t really hitting-it-off, either. They clearly have nothing in common and don’t appear too impressed with each other. But that’s okay, since we like them anyway. During the drive home, they are pulled over by an overzealous cop. The situation escalates and Slim ends up grabbing the cop’s gun and killing him in self defense. Slim wants to call the police, but Queen, a defense attorney with first-hand experience in social injustice, insists they flee the scene.
All this happens before the title even flashes on the screen. Queen & Slim masterfully establishes its plot, setting and lead characters with more efficiency than any film I’ve seen in recent memory.
Now fugitives, the two head south without a solid plan beyond their next move. Subjects of a massive manhunt, not only do Queen and Slim become a media sensation, but reluctant folk heroes. Some are willing to assist them in trying to flee the country, while many others rise in protest of their treatment…sometimes violently. One of those who assists them is Queen’s uncle, Earl (Bokeem Woodbine), a sleazy pimp who’s already indebted to her (the reason why is just one of the film’s many narrative surprises).
The film becomes a road trip that unfolds much like Thelma & Louise, albeit with a lot of relevant commentary on today’s tumultuous social climate. The real journey is the one taken by the titular characters as they reassess themselves, increasingly aware that their entire future has boiled down to the next few days and the most important thing left in their lives is each other.
Though sometimes shamelessly manipulative, it’s difficult not to get swept along by their journey. Queen and Slim are not-only complex characters, but extraordinarily likable and their transformation is compelling. As media scrutiny and public protests intensify, so does their relationship, best exemplified when Queen and Slim consummate their relationship by the roadside while a young boy they met the day before – inspired by their fame – intentionally shoots a cop during a riot. It’s at this moment we suspect things are going to end all lot worse than any of my dates at the shooting range.
Queen & Slim ultimately becomes a sweeping journey of discovery, an engaging, poignant story bolstered by sympathetic performances from Kaluuya and Turner-Smith. Confidently directed by first-timer Melina Matsoukas (her first film), we’ve seen this type of movie before, but in the right hands, it’s still a trip worth taking.