After a fairly awkward Tinder date, a disappointed but playful Slim (Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya) attempts to drive home the slightly combative and guarded Queen (The Neon Demon’s Jodie Turner-Smith), but they are pulled over by a white cop, hell-bent on giving the black couple a hard time. It’s a scenario which has played out tragically in many reported incidents in the United States. Here we see the pair on the run after the police officer shoots Queen in the leg, before being shot dead in the struggle which follows. Queen, being an attorney, knows how these events will likely play out, and with the killing of a local cop surely producing a state full of trigger happy police, she encourages Slim to flee the scene with her.
Melina Matsoukas’ outstanding debut feature film will obviously draw comparisons to Bonnie and Clyde, given the couple on the run from the law angle, but that’s basically where the comparisons end. Queen & Slim effectively highlights and explores what is a huge problem – one which has been plaguing the black community, and one that should really be long dead in the year 2020.
Hefty issues aside, this can often be a charming and enjoyable ride. The charisma of the two leads and their involuntary pairing produces some excellent chemistry and allows for some interesting ideas about dating and choosing a partner in current times to be explored. The passion which builds over the course of the journey also warrants some leaps in logic when questionable decisions are made by the titular characters. Sometimes there are reasons behind decisions that just don’t seem immediately apparent to me as a white man who doesn’t need to worry when he’s pulled over by the police, other times the characters go with the heart rather than the head. It’s these moments which produce some of the finest, most beautiful and memorable parts of the film – so not only should it be forgiven, it should be applauded.
It opens up a broader theme piggybacking on this social and cultural statement which helps stick the landing, which is simply about living the best life you can. Even when under duress – where forces are perpetually conspiring against you. It’s a strong and compelling theme which I wager will resonate more powerfully with those who aren’t able to rest as easy when pulled over to the side of the road.
Matsoukas, coming from the world of music videos and commercials, gives us a beautiful look at America from Ohio to Florida, with the highlight of the film being a drink and a dance at an out-of-the-way Louisiana bar, where the uneasy couple find the community close ranks around them, and they are afforded a moment of relief in sanctuary. It’s also a great moment for the soundtrack, in a film where music is an exceptional component. An iconic photograph (used in the posters and marketing for the film) of the couple posing whilst on the run could threaten to transcend the film and find footing in our real-world cultural awareness. Queen & Slim takes aim so elegantly and effectively, that I wouldn’t be surprised.