Starring, written and directed by Nana Mensah, Queen of Glory is a strong, accessible debut feature that not only offers up insight to Ghanian funeral traditions, for this reviewer, but also a deeper dive down into the life of a modern Ghanaian-American woman, who thinks she has found her future path as a Scientist, but when a family member unexpected passes away, she has to unexpectedly readjust and re-evaluate where she is in her life.
While on the surface it’s a simple setup, Queen of Glory has layers built through a steady reveal of the people in Sarah’s life, and the people who aren’t – alongside who she lets in, emotionally and physically. In her love life, she’s the other half of an affair with a married man who she works with, and he’s promising her a move to Ohio and a new job/life, which seems suspect from the start.
Just as she’s on the verge of running away with him, she receives news that her mother has suddenly passed away and must go back to the Bronx to organise the funeral, as well as a slew of family interest over the contents of her Mother’s will. And from this, she inherits her Mother’s Christian bookstore and a man named Pitt (Meeko Gattuso) who works there (and their relationship is a joy) but she doesn’t want to stay where she grew up, because she’s planning a different direction. We witness that home is a struggle for Sarah, as she’s psychologically separated herself, but isn’t necessarily comfortable with that distance, it’s smartly done.
Queen of Glory is certainly a tale of family, and a journey for a child of immigrants, with additional pressure of tradition and expectations that lay heavy on the head. What makes Mensah’s film especially watchable is her portrayal of Sarah, who is clearly a bit lost early on, even if super smart. We also get to see her being unable to conceal direct honesty, as she’s very matter of fact – possibly character traits of her Mum and Dad – but I didn’t find her mean, just truthful.
Mensah’s film also blends old footage of Ghana, I believe, in-between moments that reflects what’s happening to her in the Bronx, showing that the journey we all take in life always follows a pattern gone before, no matter how hard you try to ignore it. It’s a beautifully framed film with wonderful, economical scenes that fit everything within the frame. It means you’re taken in and offers a connection as a passer-by, but also lets the scene the exhale with authentic, central characters.
I loved the measured low key storytelling that never slouches, and with those intelligently-framed scenes, as well as earthy cinematography by Cybel Martin (who also recently worked on the excellent A League of Their Own), plus additional photography by Jason Chau, it’s a very likeable story that not only features a strong lead performance from Mensah herself, but also natural co-starring performances from Meeko, Oberon K.A. Adjepong, and Anya Migdal.
Queen of Glory covers family, grief, and a plethora of skilfully constructed moments that are a joy to watch, even if sometimes full of real pain, with enough honest laughs in this refreshing take on a journey of self-discovery, all packed into a snappy, yet thoughtful, 78 minutes.