[Review] 'Queen & Slim': A Chilling & Beautiful Romance
In the marketing for Queen & Slim, a phrase from the film that you probably keep hearing is "the black Bonnie and Clyde." But to refer to our main characters in that way does a major disservice to the deep emotional weight of this story.
Directed by Melina Matsoukas in her feature film debut and written by Emmy winner Lena Waithe, Queen & Slim follows an African-American couple after a first date gone wrong, when they must kill a police officer in self-defense. Knowing the consequences, they decide to go on the run.
The strength of this film lies with the main characters. Movies like Bonnie & Clyde (1967), Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid (1969), or The Blues Brothers (1980) succeed because they get the audience to root for the criminals to escape the law (although Queen & Slim's crime is arguably not one). It is remarkable how little we know about Queen & Slim before they end up in this situation, yet we care so much about them from the start. As the two of them get to know each other, the audience does as well, and the desire for them to get away becomes even stronger.
Part of the reason why the attachment to them grows so strong is due to the incredible performances from Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith. After his Oscar-nominated performance for Get Out (2017), his terrifying role in Widows (2018), and a role in Black Panther (2018), Kaluuya continues to show his ability and range as one of the best actors working today. It is almost shocking that this is Turner-Smith's first leading role because she is magnetic. Her character is already strong-willed when the film begins, but her arc to another type of strength as the plot continues is stunning.
Not only does Queen & Slim succeed as an emotional story with an important social message, but it also succeeds as a thriller. Because you care so much about these people, there is so much fear in every obstacle they face on their journey. There were many moments where the audience audibly gasped, screamed, and audibly yelled "Oh my god!" as if we were seeing a horror movie. Matsoukas' directing is what makes these strong reactions possible. Her vision is so specific and bold, that there are no wasted moments. Just as it's shocking that this is Turner-Smith's first leading role, it's shocking that this is Matsoukas' first film. Whatever her next project is, I'll be highly anticipating it.
Credit should also be given to Waithe, whose script is another reason why this story is so gripping. Balancing a strong message about police brutality and a deep romance is no easy feat, and she mostly pulls it off. The place where Queen & Slim wavers a bit is in what exactly it is saying about the situation at hand. They become a symbol for black power, with many in the country supporting their run from the law just as the audience is. The two seem somewhat uncomfortable with this at times. Waithe wants to show multiple sides, which is honorable, but it is a dichotomy that muddles the message. That being said, Waithe is clearly very talented and is going to continue making interesting art.
I was lucky enough to see Queen & Slim at a screening at Columbia College Chicago, Waithe's alma mater. The large audience was so visibly and audibly excited and invested throughout. If a film creates that kind of environment, the filmmaking is clearly powerful. Whatever issues there may be, there is no denying how rich in emotion this story is, and it'll have your heart pounding until the last frame.
Queen & Slim was released on November 27 in the United States. It is scheduled to be released in January 2020 in the United Kingdom.