An awkward first date that very quickly evolves into a lovers on the run scenario, in this directorial debut from Melina Matsoukas. There is a distinct style to Queen and Slim that entices you from the second it starts. It has all the components for a film to claim itself as powerful example of contemporary auteur cinema, with the two strong screen presences in the form of Daniel Kaluuya (most known for Jordan Peele’s 2017 film Get Out) and Jodi Turner-Smith (a relative newcomer to the big screen), coupled with an alluring aesthetic and slick soundtrack, however, a heavy-handed approach and a tendency towards trite dialogue is a cause for some disappointment.
There is a killer set up, which throws us, with immediate intensity, into the couple’s most unfortunate quick turn of events, forced upon them by the trigger-happy hand of a racist white cop. Their initial interaction over a dinner date in a ‘black-owned diner’, showcases her (Turner-Smith) as a slightly bitter, solitary character and him (Kaluuya) as her much more eager and heartfelt counterpart. His (Kaluuya) specific mention of the diner being black-owned draws our attention to the pertinent racial-political sub-text of the film, which is never satisfyingly dissected. Despite a very clear attempt at exploring the state of racial politics in America, there is a distinct lack of a nuanced perspective meaning we are left with rather broad statements on how race still pervades American society.
The first act is able to maintain intrigue, due to the initial shock of their altercation with the police, reverberating steadily enough for us to be unsure of what their next step might be. What is most powerful is how Matsoukas cleverly douses her film in atmosphere through the capture of poetic visuals of America’s back roads and the colouring of it with some interesting yet flawed characters, who are all affected and influenced by the plight of dubbed ‘black Bonnie and Clyde’. However absorbing Matsoukas’ aesthetic may be, it does not detract from the under-baked script and poor plot progression, which causes our investment in their journey to dwindle. The fact that one of the main motors for exploring racial politics is how the couple’s blackness affects the kind of help they are given from the people they encounter is a weak source of developing a meaningful exploration of the state of race in America. Therefore, the film’s commentary on racism in America so readily becomes based on one-to-one biased interactions and does little to speak to systemic problems to do with race in America, despite its introduction of police brutality fuelled prejudice. These individual confrontations that the pair encounters are at times peculiar and unjustified. There are some moments of poignancy, which speak more to the power of the director’s talent than of the story but some are so forced, making what could have been an experience of true empathy for the characters, feel quite hollow instead. Queen and Slim is perhaps best described as a love story in an unlikely set of circumstances, which as a summary dies little to reflect the wider political conversation the film tries to tackle.