Mark Burger’s double feature review: ‘Queen & Slim’ and ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’
Queen & Slim, which marks the feature debut of producer/director Melina Matsoukas, stars Daniel Kaluuya as Earnest Hines (“Slim”) and screen newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith as Angela Johnson (“Queen”), whose seemingly uneventful first date quickly becomes otherwise when they are pulled over by an aggressive police officer (Sturgill Simpson) and, after a tense exchange, Queen is wounded, and the officer shot dead.
At that moment, they become fugitives, soon to become folk heroes.
From this simple yet relevant set-up, the film attempts to combine a chase thriller, an examination of contemporary race relations and a character study. Producer Lena Waite also makes her feature debut, working from a story she wrote with fellow producer James Frey. The elements are there, but the screenplay is unable to combine them in a completely compelling fashion.
There are some nagging issues that compromise the film’s credibility at times. Although Queen is an attorney, she makes no attempt to contact a colleague for advice or assistance, even though the video of the shooting incident doesn’t necessarily show premeditation. Actually, the video is a major reason that they become revered in certain circles.
In addition, the death of a significant character is alluded to rather than shown, which dulls its impact. The old adage about a picture being worth a thousand words comes to mind. Finally, the film’s climax may be visually striking, but it also seems to defy logistics.
As Queen and Slim make their break for freedom, one character refers to them as “the black Bonnie and Clyde,” but the film bears more similarities to Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973) and Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise (1991). They are heroes, but the system’s against them – and they know it.
The performances go a long, long way to keeping the narrative interesting for its 132-minute running time. Kaluuya continues to impress here, his open likability making Slim empathetic throughout. Turner-Smith brings an appealing bossy attitude to Queen, and when romance finally blooms between them – which doesn’t occur until midway through the film – she and Kaluuya are an attractive and charismatic screen couple. Bokeem Woodbine has some good moments as Queen’s tormented uncle, but Chloe Sevigny and Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame) are wasted in potentially interesting roles.
All by himself, Tom Hanks makes A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood what it is, but it still isn’t enough.
Playing Fred Rogers – yes, the immortal Mr. Rogers from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood – it’s fascinating to watch how Hanks seamlessly adopts the familiar, friendly mannerisms of perhaps the most beloved children’s television host in history. When he’s on screen, all eyes are on Hanks. When he’s off screen, it’s another story and an all too predictable one.
The film, adapted from Tom Junod’s 1998 Esquire article, “Can You Say … Hero?” by screenwriter/executive producers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster (who also appears in the film), dramatizes the relationship that develops between Rogers and the Junod character, here called Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys). Vogel is an award-winning journalist who barely masks his contempt for the assignment and who, remarkably, seems to have little idea of Mr. Rogers’s impact on the public. (The film is set in 1998, by which Rogers’s reputation was already cemented.)
Lloyd is struggling with the demands of marriage and fatherhood, as well as a poor relationship with his wayward father (Chris Cooper). Care to guess who turns Lloyd’s frown upside down with his homespun warmth and wisdom?
It’s not that Rhys, Cooper, or newcomer Susan Kelechi Watson (as Lloyd’s wife) aren’t sincere, but there’s never any doubt how this drama will work itself out, or who’ll be responsible.
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2019, Mark Burger.