Director Melina Matsoukas’ previous experience from directing music videos shows very much in her feature debut Queen & Slim. She definitely has an eye for placing the subject to the frame in a powerful position, seen multiple times happen here. What happens with the film though is that it feels more like a 10-minute video for a 3 minute hit song with music dropping in and out as b-roll footage needs to be edited in.
Matsoukas leads the technical side with a confident hand as she finds the right times to place the viewer on the run with the two main characters, Queen and Slim, and times to leave them be while shooting wide and steady. The way the individuals are portrayed, you’d easily think that her strong-suit would be a story focused on one character. I’ll be excited to see if that is something she does next. Daniel Kaluuya as Slim is once again showing his award-noted talent as he really elevates the scenes especially with his facial expressions. His chemistry with Jodie Turner-Smith (Queen) is more friend-like rather than tinder-date-gone-right so thankfully they as actors are enjoyable to follow for most of the movie.
Overstuffed and messy screenplay is Queen & Slim’s (in both meaning’s) downfall since it falls directly between surrealistic and straightforward, missing being either one. Scenes with domestic abuse, lashing out at a mechanic and demanding early flight are weird inclusions. The most obvious one is where there is simultaneously a sex scene and a protester killing an officer. You could move past it by claiming it to be for shock value but considering the atmosphere, it comes off tone deaf. The film moves the story awkwardly, having multiple times nothing meaningful happening or those things being brushed aside. Similarly characterisation is a mess, especially Queen who is an attorney is infuriating in her decisions and Slim whose coldness doesn’t reflect him in the beginning.
Smileys: Daniel Kaluuya, directing
Frowneys: Pacing, screenplay, characterisation
Could’ve been a cool short film or an anthology episode.