On the surface, Queen & Slim seems like a rather straightforward story. A man and a woman go on a first date. She’s a lawyer who’s rather blunt and very used to her own company. He’s a religious man who loves his family and eats too loudly. It’s not an awful date but there clearly isn’t enough there to warrant a second. When the man drives the woman home, he is pulled over by a police officer who then pulls a gun on him with no good cause. Things escalate quickly and the man ends up shooting the police officer in self-defence. But the man and the woman are black. The police officer was white. And they know nobody will believe them so decide to go on the run.
What follows is anything but straightforward.
Lena Waithe’s screenplay is absolute perfection, weaving together the evolving relationship between this unlikely pair in the most engaging and realistic manner – and all while keeping the pace going at a steady rhythm that doesn’t have time to lull, only pause to occasionally reflect. There’s time, too, for the odd moment of levity when necessary.
Added to this, we have the clear vision of director Melina Matsoukas and the stunning work of cinematographer Tat Radcliffe – two elements that combine to make a film that is visually breath-taking, whether it’s the large sweeping shots of the US countryside as the pair drive through different rural areas or the close intimate shots of the two main actors.
Though the many supporting actors who pop up throughout the film feel fully developed even if they’re only briefly on the screen, Queen & Slim’s focus belongs entirely to Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith who completely inhabit these two central characters. You’re there with them through that awkward first date and for every step that follows. They take Waithe’s words and Matsoukas’ vision and create something wholly captivating and tangible. Actors or performances are entirely forgotten as these two characters feel so entirely real. Turner-Smith, in particular, is a revelation, bringing the many layers of this conflicted woman to the screen with such delicate maturity.
The overall film is incredibly romantic and so full of both passion and pain as the pair face up to the reality of their situation. As time passes, they start to be more open with themselves and each other about what they really want out of life. With the apparent end in sight, there is a constant feeling that there’s no putting off till tomorrow what can be done today. So they take their moments of pleasure where they can. They take in the beauty of the scenery around them. They plan for a future they know may not come. And in this we find the absolute joy of their story. The wonder and magic of feeling valued, seen and loved and all that comes with human connection.
So much of the film is about faith: faith in each other, in themselves and in those they meet on their journey. They cannot keep going without help but every new decision to take a person on their word opens them up to fresh danger. The result is that we get a feeling of community and solidarity while we wait for that one wrong move that is sure to destroy their plans.
Queen & Slim shows what can happen when every part of the film-making puzzle comes together so well, both behind and in front of the camera. The film awakens the senses. It’s a joyous, bittersweet love story and a tense, dramatic chase adventure, all perfectly woven together into one exquisite piece of storytelling.