Cherish the ride, no matter where it goes. Tinder brings together two people in a Cleveland, Ohio diner. One, “Queen,” (Jodie Turner-Smith) is a defendant lawyer. The other, “Slim,” (Daniel Kaluuya) is…not a lawyer. He’s a God-fearing family man, totally different from Queen, who’s a nonbeliever and distant from her kinfolk. The date isn’t bad, but not overwhelmingly good, either. They’re seemingly two ships passing in the night, until they’re pulled over by a policeman during Slim’s intended drop-off of Queen.
The aftermath of this routine traffic stop ends with the officer killed by Slim. It was certainly self-defense, but how is the media and world at large going to see two African Americans killing a Caucasian officer? As straight murder. These two have no choice but to go on the run, simultaneously serving as symbols of defiance and danger.
Yours truly literally just talked about the double feature potential Just Mercy and Brian Banks have, both rooted around the systematic slantedness of a legal system that blacks far too often find themselves on the wrong side of. Room for a triple feature? Queen & Slim isn’t a biography, nor does it specifically cover the horrors of a wrongful conviction. But at its core, it’s as much about injustice as those movies, hewing to the typical likelihood of what happens/were to happen in situations like what the main characters find themselves in.
Queen & Slim is the first for a few people, starting with director Melina Matsoukas, her experience primarily coming from piloting iconic music videos of the decade in Beyoncé’s Formation and Rihanna’s We Found Love. Scenery and locale plays a huge part in the film; it’s seemingly no coincidence that the duo’s journey begins in Ohio (a territory that many slaves tried to get to due to its prohibition on slavery) and goes straight through the South, obviously the genesis of a long troubled history for African-Americans in the United States. Using a bit of a sepia tone creates a warm and vintage romantic feel throughout, even with a marvelous modern hip hop/R&B soundtrack.
Queen & Slim—somewhat of an odd title being that these names are hardly mentioned—is truly a love story taking place during truly unfortunate circumstances. It’s beautifully authentic, sometimes told with a touch of surrealism; the opening “credits” set to black with only dialogue heard after the incident is simple but effective. However, at times the images & symbolism are too on-the-nose in their meaning, and an intimate scene is oddly interspersed with one of a riot that lacks any connective tissue that binds them together.
Queen & Slim serves as writer/actress Lena Waithe’s first credit in penning a screenplay, and her strongest aspect is making the two mismatched personas slowly but surely find common ground and eventually sparks, starting with the opening Tinder date. Their romance story incorporates themes of immortality, true freedom, and leaving behind a legacy. Much like Nocturnal Animals, Queen & Slim has some of the most resonant quotes on love I’ve ever heard. It’s the dramatic thriller aspect of the film that starts strong, yet ultimately ends kind of pedestrian through a combination of foreshadowing and happenstance.
With that said, take a step back and realize this isn’t a plot-driven feature, but a character-driven one, which means that Kaluuya and Turner-Smith are relied upon to do almost all of the heavy lifting. And that is a great thing. Few actors have had such a strong selective run like Kaluuya has beginning with Sicario in 2015. His ability to slink into any character as if he’s been them forever is incredible.
As for his co-star, Turner-Smith, this is technically not her first feature, but since the poster makes a point to say “and introducing” over her name, this might as well be her first feature acting role. In many ways, she’s the man of the story, forced to confront her own repressed emotions and past wounds in order to grow for herself. A love story that happens under these stipulations could easily have come off as phony and unnatural, but the script gives them well-timed “breaks” within the states-long escape that evolve their own characters and calcifies their bond and feelings. In a smaller part, Bokeem Woodbine grows on the viewer, his Uncle Earl initially seeming out of place to only be revealed as one of the fulcrum components of the film.
There’s only the hard reality in Queen & Slim. No false pretenses, happy endings, or things of that sort. But, there’s one takeaway Matsoukas and Waithe leave viewers with. Love may not conquer all all the time, but the presence of love certainly makes the difficult times easier to deal with.
Photo credits go to hollywoodreporter.com, stereogum.com, and variety.com.
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