Queen and Slim’s title characters (Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya, respectively) are billed as the black Bonnie & Clyde. Screenwriter Lena Waithe (Master of None) draws parallels to the infamous outlaw couple throughout the film; although both parties are fugitive lovers on the run, the circumstances surrounding their most-wanted statuses are determined by the racial history of the country hunting them.
Queen, a defense attorney, and Slim, a Costco employee, meet on a dating app. After ignoring Slim’s messages on the app for weeks, Queen eventually agrees to a first date at a Cleveland diner. Queen, a misanthropic skeptic, and Slim, the salt of the earth, trade jabs before mercifully allowing the date to end. On the way to drop Queen off, Slim is pulled over by an aggressive police officer (Sturgill Simpson).
A routine traffic stop quickly and unnecessarily turns violent when the officer draws his gun and shoots at Queen. Slim disarms the cop and kills him in self-defense. Queen urges Slim back to the car to slip away before the two are sent to prison for the actions of a prejudiced, trigger-happy police officer. Forming a haphazard plan, the couple agrees to head south to New Orleans in search of aid from Queen’s Uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine). Queen and Slim must rely on their wits, the decency of strangers, and each other to escape fate.
Esteemed music video director Melina Matsoukas, who won Grammys for the “We Found Love” and “Formation” videos, makes her feature film directorial debut here. Splashy and occasionally ostentatious, Queen and Slim is an apt introduction to the cinema for a music video director. The film casually transitions between flashy and poignant, although Queen and Slim is far better when the substance surpasses the style.
Multiple scenes splice conversation played back in voiceover with frames of stoic characters. These moments might represent exchanges that occurred in the past, during the scene, or not at all, in an imagined argument. Intimate, character-building dialogue is obscured by this befuddling directorial choice. Another garish segment of the film cuts between a love scene and a protest-turned-riot, mixing sex and violence to gaudy effect. Acting out-of-character, a secondary character instigates the riot, forcing a violent resolution to a conflict that makes little thematic sense.
Turner-Smith and Kaluuya anchor the compelling, consequential artistry that Queen and Slim capably delivers. The title duo, who are more like peanut butter and mustard than peanut butter and chocolate, naturally find love through shared trauma and compassion. Turner-Smith’s imposing Queen and Kaluuya’s mellow Slim are an indelible couple in the annals of romantic movie history.
Navigating the trepidatious journey south requires caution and attentiveness. Without a lifetime of experience, Queen and Slim stood no chance to make it out of Ohio, let alone to New Orleans. Queen and Slim’s prevailing theme is the harsh reminder that mistrust and oppression can come with the color of your skin.