After a bad Tinder date, Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) and Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) are driving home when they're pulled over by a cop and the situation escalates into a violent, fatal encounter. Desperate, they go on the run and soon become folk heroes as they evade police and learn to survive...
Road movies are well-trodden for a number of reasons. They have a natural flow and sense of pacing to the story that you don't get from other genres. It naturally lends itself to drama more than any other, and what's more, there's the added bonus that the scenery can do the heavy lifting when the story is slight. 'Queen & Slim' doesn't have that problem, but the added lens of racial tensions in America means that there's a grim understanding throughout it that you know how it's going to end.
That being said, Lena Waithe's excellent script and Melina Matsoukas' gorgeous direction means that it's taking in all of the beauty, the chemistry between the leads, and the superb soundtrack to make sure that the ending is all the more heartbreaking. You know the horrible ending is coming, and it's made doubly so by the fact the journey towards it was so rewarding and invigorating.
Daniel Kaluuya continues to have a sharp understanding of how to channel a range of conflicting emotions in a small space and with minimal dialogue. Likewise, Jodie Turner-Smith gives off an air of elegance, control, and poise that stands in sharp contrast to Kaluuya's studied authenticity and naturalism. The two work well together, and like everything else in 'Queen & Slim', it may arrive at the natural conclusion, but it's so enjoyable to see it get there.
It's a real shame that 'Queen & Slim' has been passed over in both the awards season, as the cinematography, the costumes, the music, and the script are all more than worthy of recognition and discussion. It's true, there is a real familiarity to the structure, but the way in which it approaches romance, race, relationships between family, and much more is fresh and unique.
If there's a complaint to be made, it's that 'Queen & Slim' drags itself a little bit too far and the ending does come with a certain clunk to it. However, as mentioned, there's nowhere else for it to go. The editing is considered and Melina Matsoukas' background in music videos is evident throughout, but you get the sense that some of the decisions made regarding pacing could have been handled better.
Still, 'Queen & Slim' is an affecting, visually compelling journey with two strong lead performances.