Queen & Slim (2019)
When’s the last time you saw a film that took your breath away?
Jodie Turner-Smith (Queen) and Daniel Kaluuya (Slim) meet simply enough, as characters starring in an all too familiar chronicle of online dating. Girl meets boy online. Boy takes girl on date. Girl shades boy incessantly. Boy takes shade in stride.
Very soon after, Queen & Slim takes a turn, and boy and girl are on the run. You know why, but you don’t know where it will take them. Even better, you don’t know where it will take you, or that you were even on the ride to begin with.
Writer Lena Waithe (Master of None; The Chi; Dear White People) and director Melina Matsoukas (Beyonce and Rihanna’s music videos: Formation and We Found Love) both succeed in weaving a fugitive love story while honoring black lives at the same time. While some may view the film as a heavy-handed Choose Your Own Adventure through the aftermath and politics of unarmed police shootings in America, it’s so much more than that.
Queen & Slim features violence, racism (overt and covert), but also love, loss, and struggling, heartfelt characters, despite their circumstance. The film even manages to make room for humor, religion, fear of the criminal justice system, complicated familial relationships, and black America’s constant endeavor to excel.
Every inch of the 2-hour, 12-minute running time is a deep dive into the American black experience through what the experience truly is: a celebration and a tragedy. Such deep subject matter is woven beautifully and delivered in an immersive, dreamy mood, taking us on a tour of the rural American South with scene-stealing stops along the way (shout out to Bokeem Woodbine). Queen & Slim is an explosive story, a necessary story, a love story, an American story, a human story.
Director Matsoukas builds upon the dreamy mood of the film using a method in which we hear the thoughts of pivotal characters without watching them speak. We seem to listen better that way, and each character’s words carry more weight. “I think everything is destined,” Slim says, as he and Queen drive toward their destiny. Both Kaluuya and Turner-Smith are unforgettable in their roles, effortlessly expressing the fear and uncertainty of life on the run while still getting to know each other. Although they journey hundreds of miles through vast, green, rolling hills and farmland, in the very next breath, audiences can easily feel the couple’s pain through stillness and close-ups during emotional scenes. Boy meets girl, and despite never learning their names, boy and girl have depth.
I was engrossed in and amazed by Queen & Slim and want to shout it from the rooftops, but don’t take my word for it. See this thick cut of modern American life for yourself. What would you do if you were in their shoes? Hopefully, you’ll never have to find out.
Queen & Slim, rated R for a reason, 4 of 4 stars.