The Lovebirds

Release: Friday, May 22, 2020 (Netflix)

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Written by: Aaron Abrams; Brendan Gall; Martin Gero

Directed by: Michael Showalter 

The entertaining but uneven The Lovebirds gives one the impression director Michael Showalter wanted to do something more laidback and lightweight following The Big Sick. While The Lovebirds has a few of the elements that made his 2017 romantic comedy such a success, it doesn’t appear to have much interest in providing the same level of emotional connection.

Chief among those elements is the film’s well-chosen pair of lead actors in the innately likable Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae. They play a thirty-something couple who, over the course of one wild and dangerous night, reevaluate themselves and their status as a couple, for better and for worse. For the second film in a row Showalter features a mixed-race couple who are imperiled somewhat by the judgment they face from others. Unlike The Big Sick, which used smart, cutting observational humor to broach difficult conversations, The Lovebirds relies more on broad, goofy humor to propel a familiar wrongfully-accused story.

It opens with a prologue detailing the halcyon days of a romance blossoming between Jibran (Nanjiani), a documentary filmmaker, and Leilani (Rae), an advertising exec. Everything’s perfect. All that’s missing is a dreamlike filter on the lens for this montage of the meet-cute. Cut to four years later and the once very happy couple are miserable tenants stuck in a longterm lease in Resentfulsville. Everything’s an argument, and competitive reality shows seem to be a source of epic blow-ups. (Leilani thinks they could win as contestants on The Amazing Race while Jibran . . . doesn’t even watch the show.)

During the drive over to a dinner party with friends and colleagues, it’s looking (and sounding) more like they are a thing of the past when a bicyclist suddenly, very suddenly, becomes the thing colliding with their present and their car windshield; the thing that ends up shaking up more than just an otherwise awkward evening. Not seconds after Jibran’s careless error they’re being carjacked by an angry man with a mustache (Paul Sparks) claiming to be a cop and that the biker is a criminal. A hectic pursuit ends with Leilani and Jibran left at the scene of a murder and looking anything but innocent when some passersby profile them and call the cops.

The resulting fall-out has the two running for their lives, simultaneously attempting to clear their names and doing some freelance detective work of their own as they track down Mustache. Along the way, the script has them engage in petty crime while donning costumes and pretending to be gangsta as they “intimidate” frat boys for info. Frustratingly only a few of these comedic sketches truly land with their intended effect. It’s important to note how, even as orgies break out before them and bullets whizz by their face, the two very much remain broken up. Yet it’s their being together that gets us through what turns out to be a rather sloppily executed narrative.

Though most of the time it’s simply silly fun, the story is at its most unbelievable, in the most literal sense of the word, when the pair stumble into an Eyes Wide Shut situation involving a connection to Mustache who could help clear their name. It’s a development that comes out of nowhere and registers as nothing more than a poor homage. Nanjiani and Rae for the most part are enough to elevate the poor writing, though Nanjiani was absolutely better in his first collaboration with Showalter. Then there are the dire moments they just can’t improve, such as when they’re forced into explaining their whereabouts to their friends after crashing the party.

It is still a fun little escapade, more so if you disregard the baker’s dozen plot contrivances and leaps in logic that allow the adventure to play out the way that it does. Natural-born comedians in Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae make that so much easier, riffing their way through from one farcical and forced plot point to another.  Their winning chemistry ultimately saves the movie as much as, if not more than, their characters save themselves.

Recommendation: I wish I could stop comparing this movie to The Big Sick, they’re clearly not the same movie and yet I can’t help but wonder what this amiable but silly action comedy might have been like if once again Nanjiani not just acted but wrote the jokes. The Big Sick definitely benefitted from what he brought as a writer. (It also benefitted from the fact it was based on a true story.) Still though, I think what the two movies do have in common is maybe something more important, and that’s a really likable pair of characters the audience can really get behind and want to see succeed. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 87 mins.

Quoted: “Look, I’m sorry I have to kill you guys. You seem like a nice, though somewhat annoying couple.”

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Photo credits: IMDb

12 thoughts on “The Lovebirds

  1. Solid review. The movie definitely had its moments. But I never could shake the feeling that it really should have been better. Rae has really grabbed my attention. Did you ever see The Photograph from earlier this year. Wasn’t expecting much but it turned out to be a really nice surprise in large part because of her performance.

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    • I was really close to seeing the Photographer. I ended up bailing the one night I had planned, and then of course it was gone by next week. 😒

      I’ll catch up with it because she made a good impression on me here, certainly helping make something better out of a pretty lame script.

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  2. I hated this movie. The only thing that made me laugh was the argument they had in the beginning of the film about his restaurant review on Yelp: She: “You literally spent several hours yesterday writing a negative Yelp review with your white-woman fingers about that tapas place we went to.”

    THAT was funny.

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    • Fair enough. It sounds like we started at two different places with this one. I didn’t feel the couple were annoying but if I did, I’m sure that would have ruined the rest of the movie. The story is definitely weak but I really like Nanjiani and Issa Rae, who is new to me, was also enjoyable.

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  3. Nice little write up, Tom. I did see this one, but never ended up reviewing it because I just wasnt invested so much in the stoey, which was like a cheap version of Date Night

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    • It’s definitely not a movie anyone’s going to remember for the story. I thought the actors really helped elevate that and make certain moments better. Of course there were some moments they couldn’t rescue, as I mentioned. Overall though I think part of this movie has suffered from being the very next thing Michael Showalter did. The Big Sick was one of those rare comedies you almost can’t top. And The Lovebirds certainly didn’t come close.

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    • She’s the perfect verbal sparring partner for Nanjiani. The peanut butter to his jelly. I really liked this couple. I wish the material was more up to par with their talents but this is certainly a grade or two above the likes of Coffee & Kareem.

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    • Thanks!!

      Yeah when most comedies today are so crap it’s hard for me to say they’re my favorite either, but I do love when a movie can just make me laugh and forget about things for awhile. That’s what The Lovebirds is good for. It won’t make you think — not like The Big Sick anyway, which was really more like a drama masquerading as comedy — but it provides some respite at least from the all the awfulness going on in the world right now, I will say that in its defense. That’s probably what helped me get along with it so much.

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