THE LOVEBIRDS ½
2020, R, 86 mins.
Issa Rae as Leilani / Kumail Nanjiani as Jibran / Betsy Borrego as Reya / Kyle Bornheimer as Brett / Moses Storm as Steve / Jaren Mitchell as BobbyDirected by Michael Showalter / Written by Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall
THE LOVEBIRDS is a stark reminder that the most prosaically scripted romcoms can be made all the more eminently watchable with two finely attuned and likeable lead actors leading the charge.
Netflix a few weeks ago after being yet another film on an increasingly
long list that have had their theatrical release lives threatened by the
Covid-19 pandemic, this action comedy is pretty much bolstered by the
sizable and effortless chemistry of stars Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae,
who play a couple that has hit relationship rock bottom that now find
themselves on the run after witnessing a ghoulish murder.
The tone and vibe of THE LOVEBIRDS seems derivatively out of the
playbook of films like DATE NIGHT and
the terribly under appreciated GAME NIGHT,
with all of these efforts featuring couples on the rocks brought together
by some dangerous criminal intrigue. Even when much of THE LOVEBIRDS' meandering scripting does it
no favors, we're still nevertheless left with the presence on Nanjiani and
Rae to pick up the pieces and do the heavy comedic lifting here.
The film has a
wonderful opening sequence, set four years ago when we meet a
soon-to-be-couple in Leilani (Rae) and Jibran (Nanjiani) as they have an
obligatory - but awfully cute - meet-cute and
their subsequent spending of the night together.
They engage in flirty banter about why relationships and marriage
suck, but they find a roundabout way to keep seeing each other.
In this nimbly paced and amusing prologue we see this pair at the
beginning of a blossoming romance, and just when viewers think that
nothing could go wrong for this duo a bold title card flashes on the
screen to indicate the passage of time to the present, and when we're
re-introduced to Leilani and Jibran it's abundantly clear that the spark
of their early relationship has all but fizzled.
They even struggle with basic communication now, which stems from
some incompatible career aspirations.
She's in advertising and dreams of being on THE AMAZING RACE,
whereas he's a starving documentary filmmaker that she feels is a go-nowhere
vocation. On their way to a
mutual friend's engagement party one night they both realize that their
union is over and headed for splittsville.
course, cruel fate, as it always manages to do in these films, steps in
when Jibran accidentally drives into a bike rider.
Fearing they've killed the man, the couple departs the vehicle to
check on the wounded bicyclist, but he amazingly gets back on his feet and
proceeds to pedal away.
Out of nowhere, a man proclaiming to be a cop (Paul Sparks) orders
Leilani and Jibran to let him have their car to chase the injured rider,
and they quickly relent.
However, things seem to go south really fast when the cop viciously
runs over his prey...over and over...and
over again, leading
the shocked pair realizing that this blood lusting brute is no police
After narrowly escaping this fiend, Leilani and Jibran are forced
to go on the run, thinking that they've now been framed for murder now.
This leads to a series of misadventures for them, which predictably
gets more outrageously dangerous by the minute and - wouldn't ya know
it? - they begin to rekindle their long lost loving mojo for one
another in the process.
and on the negative, it's awfully hard to not see the similarities of this
film to the previous aforementioned ones, leading THE LOVEBIRDS instilling
more than a bit of been-there, done-that feelings in audience
Frankly, there have been too many action-thriller comedies to count
that involve once thick as thieves couples that are now estranged and find
themselves embroiled in their city's rotten underworld of crime, and THE
LOVEBIRDS most definitely adheres to many cockamamie genre formulas here.
Obviously, no one watching this will require any kind of plotting
roadmap to deduce where it's headed: It's beyond reasonable to assume that
Leilani and Jibran will get over their differences and grow to love and
respect each other again while trying to unravel the whodunit
murder-mystery conspiracy that they haplessly find themselves in.
And when you really stop and think about it, the core premise
contained here is fairly preposterous and just as contrived, not to
mention that all of the series of unfortunate events that befall this
couple in the initial murder's aftermath strain credulity through and
Still, THE LOVEBIRDS is aiming for all out madcap farce, so I'm
more than willing to cut it some slack in this regard.
and, as mentioned, Nanjiani and Rae are a pretty dynamite pair here, who
showcase great comic timing throughout when it comes to their rat-ta-tat
dialogue exchanges of scathing sarcasm that they respectively unleash on
one another throughout.
Even when their characters find themselves on the receiving end of
many embarrassing and nearly fatal predicaments that could be best
described as sitcom worthy, it's the lead actor's abilities here to make
you believe that Leilani and Jibran are an actual couple with a deep
history that helps work out the film's multiple kinks.
Their incessant and colorful bickering scores a lion's share of the
hearty laughs in THE LOVEBIRDS, and they also generate ample chuckles at
their ever-increasing levels of stunned and breathless mortification at
everything that's being thrown in their way while on a path to proving
I liked how Nanjiani and Rae play smart and considerate people that
just happen to make a lot of categorically stupid decisions through most
of this zany film.
No one can migrate between soft spoken thoughtfulness in one scene
to fanatical levels of wide eyed and frightened agitation in other moments
as well as Nanjiani.
said all of that, I still couldn't shake that THE LOVEBIRDS was a
disappointment for the Indian star and his director in Michael Showalter,
who previously teamed up of the truly superb 2017 hit THE
BIG SICK (also penned by Nanjiani), which was a semi-biographical
portrait for the star of one man navigating through a loved one's illness.
Now, THE LOVEBIRDS could not be anymore different than THE BIG
SICK, and creators striving for change-up variety with follow-up efforts
should be applauded, but THE LOVEBIRDS is simply too scattershot, ill
focused, and aimless in execution for its own good.
For the most part, this film feels more like a series of SNL
inspired comedic vignettes and skits than a fully fledged comedy with some
semblance of a story.
Obviously, it's a joy at times to see Showalter let his stars loose
to unleash improvisational shenanigans, and much of it is funny, but I was
kind of left wondering why this script doesn't give these pleasant and
skilled actors more to do.
And for as many good laughs as the film conjures up, there are an
equal number of other instances that land with a desperately unfunny thud.
Some scenes incredulously feel ripped out of whole other films
altogether, like a would-be uproarious moment involving the kidnapped and
bound couple being threatened with either boiling bacon fat being thrown
on them or a kick to the head by a horse (like...what?!).
And then there's the way THE LOVEBIRDS culminates towards an
extended climax that goes on for what seems like forever that's trying to
spoof and riff off of EYES WIDE SHUT.
You know a comedy's in trouble when it chooses to spoof a notorious
scene from a Stanley Kubrick erotic thriller from two decades ago.
How very topical.
I guess that I'm kind of flip-flopping hard on this one. THE LOVEBIRDS has some silly momentum and fleeting moments of go-for-broke and mad absurdity, and it most assuredly is a better film than it would have been if Nanjiani and Rae were not quarterbacking the whole affair (plus, it's a most refreshing thing to see a mixed race romcom featuring two leads of color, something that's still not in as abundance as it should be). Yet, there's not a lot of meat on this film's bones, and with it clocking in at under 90 minutes THE LOVEBIRDS never feels like a full bodied and well thought out action comedy romp. If this premiered in cinemas I doubt I could wholly recommend it for a theatrical ticket price, but as for streaming it relatively for free via Netflix now...it's a passably engaging time waster, leaving my two and half star rating a workable middle ground choice. But if you're a Nanjiani fan and are expecting the crowd pleasing greatness of THE BIG SICK or even the efficiently amusing hijinks of STUBER, you may be in for a letdown here.