Black love matters
Big ideas fall short in a modern-day spin on Bonnie and Clyde
Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith in Queen & Slim
Can a film be deeply moving while ultimately leaving you unfulfilled? Can it be both painfully earnest while feeling inauthentic? In the case of Queen & Slim, the new film starring Daniel Kaluuya and newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith, the answer is a disappointing and unfortunate yes.
Queen & Slim opens in a diner, where Angela (Turner-Smith) is having second thoughts on her awkward Tinder date with Ernest (Kaluuya). She’s a haughty attorney; he’s seemingly beneath her, in a disarming way. While taking Angela home, the pair are pulled over by police officer. Things escalate quickly and violently, as Angela is wounded by the police officer before Ernest kills him in an act that could be proven as self-defense.
With that, this couple on a blind date find themselves fleeing from the law that would sooner see them dead than face due process. They become reluctant folk icons, dubbed Queen and Slim.
The film is loaded with the pain and anguish of the many lives lost to police brutality while making its own attempt at tearing down stereotypes within the black community. Yet Queen & Slim never seems to find a proper balance in tone or viewpoint. The film frequently swings between the poetic musings of its titular characters, finding love on the run in a world at war with their very existence. This is matched by broad, on-the-nose social commentary about tensions between law enforcement and black communities.
Written by Lena Waithe from an original idea by James Frey—yes, that James Frey—the script often feels undercooked, never quite escaping its theatricality and staginess. Director Melina Matsoukas, her first turn at the helm of a feature film, luxuriates in the visual beauty of black culture and the poetry of black love, yet Queen & Slim never finds its footing between authenticity and overwrought messaging.
No scene greater illustrates this than an interlude featuring Queen and Slim, the consummation of the love that has been growing between them, crosscut with a young black teenager attending a protest on their behalf. The protest quickly devolves into riot police violence, and just as Queen and Slim collapse into a beautiful, orgasmic heap of passion, the black teenager levels a gun at a police officer and fires.
Love and death, for people like Queen and Slim, are forever intertwined. But here the film moves right along, unconcerned with the ripple effects the actions of the titular characters have on the world around them as they barrel down the back roads of the Deep South, oblivious to the doomed fate awaiting them on the tarmac of Florida airstrip.
There is a vital message at the heart of Queen & Slim: the men and women who inspired such a folk hero tale, those who have been killed at the hands of police officers, should be remembered and memorialized, regardless of the circumstances that lead to their untimely ends. That message comes through loud and clear in Queen & Slim, landing sincerely in a film that ultimately underwhelms.