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Queen & Slim [Movie Review]

Queen & Slim is a drama written by Lena Waithe and directed by Melina Matsoukas. The film tells the story of a young Black man and woman out on their first date in Cleveland, Ohio. When the date doesn’t exactly turn out to be a love connection, the two prepare to go their own way. On the drive home what should be a routine traffic stop goes wrong and the couple find themselves on the run after shooting a police officer in self-defense.

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Show Notes

Under normal circumstances, Queen & Slim would be the story of a young couple out on a typical first date. There might be mishaps and miscommunications along the way. But they would go home at the end of the night with an innocent but harmless story to tell their friends about the great, weird, funny, or all of the above person they went out with. Unfortunately, given the current climate, a story about a traffic stop that’s gone wrong during a night out isn’t far-fetched and makes for the foundation of what should be an interesting movie.

The film opens in a small diner in Cleveland, Ohio where Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) are on their first date after meeting on Tinder. Queen is a lawyer who has had a terrible day during which a client has been found guilty and sentenced to death. Slim works in retail, it’s not quite clear but sounded like maybe a grocery store, where he takes an interest in the lives of his customers.

Initially, I didn’t particularly like Queen or Slim as individuals due to how they were contrasted against each other early in the film. But I ended up liking them both about halfway through the movie.

I get it that Queen had a bad day and had no one else to turn to. But, I don’t understand the point of going out on a date if you’re going to be sullen and unsociable. Why not stay home rather than sit across the table from someone and burden them with your unhappiness? The character plays into the tired cliche of the professionally driven and successful angry Black woman with baggage who is lonely because no one in her life cares.

I’m not saying that there are no real Black women who are like Queen but rather that it’s a tired and overused stereotypical character who frequently pops up in predominantly Black movies. The trope of the angry Black woman who is hurting inside and lashing out at everyone until she meets the unbelievably patient man who is willing to see through her tough outer shell to the tender person inside. (Gabrielle Union played this exact role in just about every one of her movies from 2000-2010.) I don’t care about whether a Black female character is nice or angry. I’d just like for her to not be the same character that I’ve seen in several other films.

Slim is incredibly passive and non-offensive. It starts with him receiving the wrong kind of eggs during the date but letting it slide because he conveniently knows the server. He prays over his meal, has religious personalized license plates, and loves his family. None of these are bad things but in combination, it comes across as the writers are going above and beyond to make it obvious that he’s a good guy. Slim also tries to appease and pretends like he’s ok even when he’s not.

From the outset, Queen’s character was set up as being difficult and a bit of an instigator while Slim is seen as just going along with her plan. He inexplicably continues to make an effort even after she expresses that she has no real interest in him.

During the ride home after the date, Slim swerves on the road and the car is pulled over by a police officer. What should be a routine traffic stop goes off the rails when the police officer is inexplicably aggressive. Instead of just running the car’s plates and giving Slim a ticket, the officer makes him get out of the car and down on the ground. This is even after his license and registration come back as being clean. The traffic stop shows how Black people (both male and female) are profiled and treated differently by the police and how quickly these interactions can escalate. The difference here is that the officer is the one to be gunned down and left in the street.

Despite Queen being a lawyer, the two make the unwise decision to flee the scene with Queen deciding that they have no choice but to go on the run. The very idea that Queen is a lawyer and her first instinct is to run seems a bit unbelievable. She’s supposedly an experienced enough attorney to be representing someone facing the death penalty but has no connections or work associates whom she can contact? And more importantly, shouldn’t she be more than capable of representing herself and Slim? If Queen had just about any other job her decision might make sense. But it’s a huge ask to ignore that she’s not just an attorney but a criminal defense attorney.

From the outset, I didn’t like that Queen is portrayed as being difficult and an instigator while Slim is just going along. Slim is a good God-fearing man but Queen is an angry heathen. Their characters are a play on the age-old Adam and Eve story of a woman leading a man astray.

After fleeing the scene, they do not stop at their homes to get clothes, the bank for money, or anywhere else to obtain the resources that they might need. Instead, they just flee with the clothes on their backs and whatever is in their purse/wallet.

I usually try to have at least a half tank of gas and thus have never run out of gas while driving but understand that it happens. What I don’t understand is how someone manages to run out of gas not once but twice. Especially when their very survival rests on being able to drive. It would be smart for them to switch cars given that the police have a description of their car. But having them run out of gas not once but twice came across as clunky moments in the plot designed to have them interact with other people and thus add drama.

I try to support Black films but I was disappointed in the movie and settled in to suffer through the rest of the film. The movie was written and directed by Black people but filled with lazy stereotypes and cliched language. For example, there’s a whole cringy exchange in a fast-food parking lot with a kid and his father. The father’s dialogue was stupid and intended to get cheap laughs at the expense of him sounding ignorant.

I’m not into pimp culture at all but some of the film’s best scenes take place when the duo arrives in New Orleans at Queen’s uncle’s home. Uncle Earl (Bookem Woodbine) and the women living in his house breathe a bit of life into the movie which changes the vibe and pacing. These scenes help to flesh out Queen & Slim and as they undergo physical transformations, the characters also become more complex and interesting.

We’ll leave the synopsis there and dive more deeply into the movie’s themes and symbolism.

Queen & Slim is technically a date movie but the mood is quite somber and subdued from the beginning. The opening scene in the diner is quite dark and a somewhat heavy foreboding hangs over everything. When Queen and Slim take off after shooting the police officer, they are panicked and afraid of being captured. They drive across states in the dead of night headed for Louisiana and tension is thick. While trying to not get caught they make several missteps that bring them very close to being captured which doesn’t help matters. Yet, when they finally arrive in Louisiana, it’s broad daylight and the sun is out if not shining.

Traveling through the night, they meet various people who could turn them in so they’re very jumpy. Without a plan, they feel compelled to run but have little faith that they will escape. Thus they bicker with each other and avoid contact with other people unless necessary. After leaving New Orleans, there’s a lot more sunshine and they’re more at ease. They still believe that they will eventually be captured but make up their minds to make the most of the time they might have left by having new experiences and doing things they’ve always wanted to do.

I’ve heard some people refer to Queen & Slim as a Bonnie and Clyde type film due to the characters being outlaws. I get the reference but disagree with the comparison. First of all, Bonnie and Clyde were criminals who set out with the intention of getting money how and where they could with no regard for lives or the law. Admittedly, Queen and Slim have killed someone but did so in self-defense, the possibility of financial rewards and notoriety were not a factor. They’re trying to save themselves but are both horrified by what has occurred.

Others have also referred to the movie as a Black love story. In some ways, it is but not really or at least not the typical love that most people aspire to. These are two people who don’t seem to have much in common aside from this one shared experience. Without this tragedy in their lives, Queen admitted that there most likely would not have been a second date. Neither one is a bad person but there’s seemingly nothing that would draw them together and make this work as a long term relationship. (I side-eye people who view these problematic struggle relationships as goals.)

They do end up going on a quasi second date that got them to both relax and step out of their shells. But would you want to be with someone because you or they think death or imprisonment is imminent? The concept might have worked better if they were already in a relationship and this was their regular date night that went wrong. They would at least have some history and a true bond rather than cramming their relationship hopes and dreams into a few days with a stranger.

I read an interview with the film’s creators where they described Queen and Slim’s journey as being the path of the Underground Railroad in reverse. The film starts in Ohio, winds its way through to the South to Louisiana, and then back east to Florida. Ohio was one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad before Canada but I’m not sure of the reason for having the characters stop in the other specific states that they did.

Throughout the film, there’s a lot of discussion about legacies. At one point, Queen and Slim discuss the reason for having children as the desire to have a legacy that lives beyond your life as a testament to your existence. I imagine these are the kinds of things you think about when facing death. Having lived a life with some lingering regrets and hurt feelings you might look back and think about things you wish you’d done or wish you hadn’t.

There’s a scene where Queen and Slim have sex while there’s a confrontation elsewhere that leads to the loss of life. Queen and Slim are trying to check things off their bucket list while running towards what they believe is certain death but are fighting against. Their meeting and participating in an activity that usually brings forth life is juxtaposed against death. As they meet people along the way, many are sympathetic to their situation and quietly cheer them on as they are viewed as standing up against injustice. No children will result from their physical union but their actions and joining for survival creates a legacy that is bigger than and beyond their lives.

There are too many convenient coincidences. Each time the characters get stuck someone just happens to pop up to help them. It feels lazy. Throughout the movie we see Black people looking out for Black people which is cool. It’s not the ideal catalyst but I understand the sentiment. Many of the Black people they meet are just regular folks trying to make their way in the world. They’re experiencing struggles as Black people in America. So they’re willing to do what they can to help someone else push back against the system.

Queen & Slim is a cool movie in the sense that it’s alright. It’s not a bad movie but I don’t think it’s that great either. It had a lot of potential but fell short due to the characters being flat for about the first half of the movie. The characters weren’t comfortable with each other and combined with their lonesome driving, the scenes dragged and threw off the pacing.

For the most part, the movie is en pointe visually and the music flows well but the unrealistic plot points drag it down. It seems like the creators had specific moments and commentary that they wanted to make but were unable to tie it together in a way that logically made sense or flowed well. Thus for much of the movie you end up with individual moments that are ok on their own but don’t work when put together.

I can’t point to another specific movie but this just feels like something I’ve already seen. Not the overall story but rather the characters and individual moments. I wish that they’d done something truly different with the characters and structured the plot better.

Usually, I only review movies when I think they’re really good. Queen & Slim is not a clear cut must-see. Rather, I think you should see the movie for the discussions that would likely come about. This is a great movie to see with a small group of friends followed by dinner where you can discuss what you liked, disliked, etc.

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