Reel Reviews | Queen & Slim

by Charles Kirkland Jr.

The ride home from an awkward first date takes an unexpected and life-changing turn in, Queen & Slim.

One night, a young African-American lawyer (Jodie Turner-Smith), after a terrible day in the office, decides to answer a Tinder request for a date and calls a young African-American man (Daniel Kaluuya).  After a tense night together, they finish their meal and the young man drives toward home.  On the way, they get stopped by a single White police officer stops them.  After some even more tense, racially-charged moments, the police officer scuffles with the young man and ends up getting shot with his own gun.  Fearing for their lives, the couple decides to run.  Of course, the officer’s dash camera catches all of the incident and a nation-wide manhunt begins for the murderers.

With a screenplay written by Lena Waithe from a story by James Frey, Queen & Slim is directed by Melina Matsoukas and stars Jodie Turner-Smith, Daniel Kaluuya, Bokeem Woodbine, Chloe Sevigny, Flea and Benito Martinez.  It is the first feature-length film directed by Matsoukas who has worked on HBO’s Insecure, Netflix’s Master of None and several music videos prior.  If the synopsis of the movie seems a little like a fairy tale, it is intentional.  Queen & Slim is a fairy tale.  A beautiful fairy tale but, a fairy tale nonetheless. 

Melina Matsoukas uses the talents that she has developed in directing gorgeous music videos for Beyonce, Rihanna and Whitney Houston to create a cinematically beautiful movie.  She integrates the soundtrack well into the movie including the return of Lauryn Hill with the new song “Guarding the Gates.”  In fact, it could be said that Queen and Slim is a two-hour and twelve-minute music video, all style, and little substance.

There are problems galore with this movie.  First, the screenplay needed some developing.  There is little, if any, the rationale given for a black woman, who is a lawyer, to decide to shirk the system in which she has been a part and try to evade the law.  The reason that in the synopsis the characters are referred to as a young lawyer and a man is that they are never given names in the movie.  In fact, there is no real explanation as to why they are called Queen and Slim either. 

Second, there is a tonal disconnection in several parts of the movie meaning that the intended tone communicated cannot be what was meant to be.  For instance, having a sex scene occur simultaneously with a violent riot against the police may speak to impulsivity but it drives the audience toward emotional confusion.

Besides the stellar look of the film, there is another saving grace, the performances of the actors, especially Bokeem Woodbine.  Woodbine plays the cantankerous, curmudgeonly uncle to Jodie Turner-Smith’s character.  He is mean on the outside but sweetish to his niece and the three scantily clad women who take care of him.  It’s not clear as to whether he is supposed to be funny but, he is and he provides a great measure of light to the darkness of this tale.

Rated R for violence, some strong sexuality, nudity, pervasive language and brief drug use, Queen & Slim is a fantastic ghetto fairy tale.  It has a great look from a rookie director and good acting performances.  However, the sum of its parts is much less than the whole.  The lack of a comprehensive script hurts the film because, under examination, it really makes no sense.  If the ending were different, it could really lay claim to its existence as a fairy tale but it will just have to be an urban legend. 

Grade:  C+