I considered writing up Queen & Slim and The Two Popes at once, a two-fer, because they're both films I found undone by last acts that unraveled everything good that came before them, including some very good performances. And not just that but both instances involved my atheism getting activated (it's my superpower apparently), which made more sense when it came to The Two Popes since that one's specifically about religion. (Read that review here.)
I decided against that though because Queen & Slim, even if the character arc they carve out for its leading lady Jodie Turner-Smith is some regressive bullshit that pissed me off righteously, even if that it still has more to offer and deserves being grappled with on its own. For one Turner-Smith deserves to be a big star, she's an electric presence; add to that that Daniel Kaluuya, who's already proven himself more than enough with Get Out and Widows, delivers some of his finest work to date here.
Director Melina Matsoukas also shoots the hell out of this thing, gifting us with a molasses slow lovers-on-the-run road-trip across the south that riffs on the iconography of the Black American Experience in exactly the same way as Ridley Scott's Thelma & Louise did with womanhood -- that was the movie I thought of the most watching this, and I sure don't mind being made to think of Thelma & Louise whenever I can be.
The script ends up being the film's big problem -- too often it mistakes generic for iconic; there's the Platonic Ideal of a table and then there's just a plain old unremarkable kitchen table, and Queen & Slim spends a lot of time on plain old unremarkable kitchen tables. Characters that should read large fall flat, impersonal -- real big screen presences like Chloe Sevigny and Flea and Indya Moore and Bokeem Woodbine show up but then just sort of float around for a minute or two; nothing about who they are seems to offer anything to the leads' journey.
And oof, where Queen and her Slim are going -- wake me when we get there so I can start screaming. Without getting too aggressively spoilery let me just say that the film whittles down everything interesting about its "Queen" and finds growth out of recession. The character is far more interesting at the start than at the end -- Turner-Smith works hard to sell this as a flowering, but the movie leaves her stranded in the weeds. And me fuming, exhausted, sputtering please stop.