After Thanksgiving, I did a double feature at AMC: Queen and Slim in the morning, and Knives Out almost immediately after. I’d never done a double feature, but I didn’t have much choice. Too many good movies come out in the holiday corridor and I don’t always have a spare Sunday to sneak out and see them.
Queen and Slim came on my radar, because I saw the trailer--online or in a theatre, I can’t remember. Queen and Slim is an R-rated romantic drama about a black couple who become accidental criminals and must flee the law. Right away, I liked the characters and the tense situation they found themselves in. The film fell off my radar for a while but came back when the reviews came in and some of my favorite movie pundits recommended the movie.
The movie doesn’t waste time. It begins with a woman (Jodie Turner-Smith) and a man (Daniel Kaluuya) going on an awkward first date. Their names aren’t given until the very end, so I’m going to go off the title and call the woman Queen and the man Slim. Queen is a defense lawyer whose client just received a death sentence. She is guarded and aloof. Slim is an amiable, warm, religious man. The date does not go well. As Slim tries to drop Queen off, he gets pulled over and aggressively searched by a racist cop. Queen tries to record the cop on her cell phone, but the cop shoots her in the leg. A heated fight breaks out between Slim and the cop. Slim grabs the cop’s fallen gun and shoots him, half in defense, half by accident. The cop dies. Before the title card officially drops, they are on the run.
My first reaction, fresh out of the theatre, was that Queen and Slim had a lot of elements that reminded me of a good fantasy movie (my favorite genre), even though it clearly wasn’t fantasy. Queen and Slim was an unexpected journey which ripped the characters out of their normal lives, brought them to interesting places and people, forged deep bonds, and forced them to contemplate deeper meanings of existence, destiny, and legacy. It was Romantic with a capital R. Not only did Queen and Slim fall in love, they expressed what love meant to them as individuals so beautifully and poetically, it made my heart twist.
(Warning: Although I try not to spoil anything in particular, I do mention details that take place halfway through the movie. If you are sensitive to these thing, you may not want to read.)
The first half of the movie was tense in the best possible way. You have two people who barely know each other thrown into a stressful situation, with no plan and almost no resources. (They need to dump their phones and they can’t use credit cards, lest they get caught.) Very quickly, the situation gets worse. What do they do? What’s going to happen? These are good people who suddenly need to think and act like criminals. Can they pull it off? Will they lose their souls?
Queen decides to go to her uncle Earl’s (Bokeem Woodbine) house in order to regroup and come up with a plan. Here is where they get their makeovers. Queen’s long braids are cut off; Slim’s hair is trimmed. Their clothes go from modest to wild. I think the shorter hair represents that their identities are being cut to core; the clothes represents the loss of their inhibitions. They’re both keenly aware that they can die at any minute. Now is the time to decide what’s important and make every moment count.
Once they get to Uncle Earl’s house, they come up with a plan--fly to Cuba, where they will be safe. Fortunately, Uncle Earl knows a guy who knows a guy who has a plane. Although there are perils still to come, the story starts to slow in the second half, when it became obvious that they are either going to get to Cuba or die trying. And considering the Bonnie and Clyde comparisons, I had a bad feeling that this was not going to end well.
Still, having a plan seemed to narrow the plot to a single, unwavering goal. I kept waiting for the plot to twist or expand, for it to become something bigger. In a way it did, as Queen and Slim find themselves unwittingly becoming symbols of racial injustice among the black community. This isn’t always a good thing. One young person idealizes what they stand for but is more enamored with being immortalized than fully grasping the risks and dangers. This illustrates the dangers of symbols.
Being a symbol for a political movement could have broadened the plot, but for some reason, it didn’t really work for me. I can’t help but compare Queen and Slim to Joker, which also has to do with an ordinary person becoming a symbol of injustice and oppression. In the case of the Joker, Arthur realized what he was a symbol of and embraced it. Queen and Slim, however, do not embrace their role. They hardly interact with the political forces that drive their destiny, preferring to avoid them. Their story is always a personal one.
And don’t get me wrong, I love how personal it is. I didn’t want them out there leading the revolution. But I did want them to speak. To share their story with someone, to explain why they were running. By staying silent, they became a blank canvas for people to pin their hopes, dreams, and frustrations on. I didn’t want this. I wanted them to be known.
This also ties in to the one artistic decision I really didn’t like in this movie. At certain points in the movie, the characters would stare at each other, mouths closed, and you would hear their innermost thoughts via voice over. This dialogue was some of the most beautiful writing about love and legacy I have ever heard, words I just wanted to steal and make my own. But it bugged me that these characters had these important conversations (and they were conversations) psychically. Not only did this take me out of the movie, it reinforced this notion that they expected to be understood without actually communicating. I don't agree with this. I think you can't assume people will understand you. You need to speak out.
I also felt like the extent to which police were hunting them across state lines was, if not unrealistic, than exaggerated. First of all, it seemed pretty clear that they were innocent. Not only did the police camera show that they were attacked, anyone investigating their background might have wondered how a defense attorney and a deeply religious man with a squeaky clean record suddenly became cop-killing criminals. (This is what I mean by communicating their story.) Second, considering that their story is causing riots across the country, cooler heads might try to, oh, I don’t know, not send in swat teams with assault rifles to hunt them down like animals. Maybe try to talk to them. De-escalate racial tensions. Focus your resources on serial killers or something like that.
Then again, what do I know about realism? Humans are capable of all sorts of irrational and terrible things, and there are plenty of examples of injustice in America. At any rate, I was more interested in their personal journey, and the personal journey was one worth seeing. I felt attached to the characters and emotionally invested in them. Queen and Slim was a movie I wouldn’t mind seeing again, to study and to see how a journey can unfold. Artistic, beautiful, and well-worth watching.
Writer. Critic. Dreamer.