If there is one company that has thrived during this current pandemic, it’s bloody Netflix. With just ourselves and our remotes for company at home, the vast majority of us have turned to streaming for our film fixes. Originally scheduled for a theatrical release in April, things didn’t quite go to plan for Michael Showalter’s The Lovebirds. But wait, what is that I hear? Oh yes, it’s the sound of Netflix coming to the rescue! The film found a new home, and found a way straight onto my TV.
The Lovebirds is a romantic comedy that tells the story of Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae), a couple on the verge of breaking up who find themselves embroiled in a murder that sends them on a mad dash adventure around New Orleans. On the whole, the film is exactly like many of the others in this kind of genre; fine. It’s just completely fine in the same way that something like Date Night is completely fine. One aspect that is more than fine is that it ticks the boxes in terms of diversity of leading cast, which is great, but depressing that it still counts as noteworthy in 2020.
The Lovebirds doesn’t mess around with its pacing and narrative, clocking in at a speedy 87 minutes that feels even speedier as you are watching. But what about the all important matter of humour? From memory, I’d say that the laughs to jokes ratio is about 3 in every 5, which isn’t bad going at all. There is one particular sequence that had me laughing out loud, hard, for pretty much the entire set piece, and not many recent romantic comedies have been able to evoke that kind of reaction!
It probably won’t serve you well to think too hard about the plot, this is a prime example of the kind of movie that you can really turn your brain off for. As tends to happen in most of these middle of the road capers, we follow the characters from one unlikely, disjointed situation to the next, but the fun is to be had in the company and the charisma rather than in the mechanics of the plot. Something that I will give the movie credit for is trying to give us an even balance of slapstick based humour and dialogue based humour. With two smart and capable actors front and centre, it would have been a shame to just them throwing themselves around for laughs. Not every joke lands, but I’m confident that there is a little something for everyone at some point.
If you are stickler for authentic details and intricately woven mystery, then The Lovebirds isn’t for you, but as something to put on and sit back with some popcorn for 90 minutes, you could do a lot, lot worse. Especially on Netflix!
The majority of the movie’s charm comes from two fun central performances by Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae. The narrative gives us a quick ‘morning after’ of their first meeting and then throws us straight into ‘four years later’, and even in this tiny window both actors manage to create a chemistry that is believable and enjoyable. Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that these two are funny as hell, so it’s no surprise that they take all of the comic responsibilities in their stride.
Nanjiani and Rae are each tasked with embodying certain insecurities and problem areas of a typical modern relationship, with things like social media, job stress, marital pressure etc. all being brought up at different points. The film is very much a silly, fun comedy, but there are small grains of truth in the relationship that help to ground it in all of the chaos surrounding them.
The likes of Paul Sparks, Kyle Bornheimer and Anna Camp (in a surprisingly small role) all do fine in their respective parts as various obstacles that Jibran and Leilani encounter on their madcap mission, but the film really is a showcase for Nanjiani and Rae. I’m not sure there is a five frame stretch at any point in which at least one of them is no present.
Overall, The Lovebirds is exactly the kind of romantic comedy that you would expect to find when browsing for a fun and thoughtless time on Netflix. Does it hold up to the harshest scrutiny? No. Does it provide a silly time with a couple of standout leading performances? Yes. There is nothing groundbreaking or super memorable here, but it made me laugh more than I had expected to and that’s all you can ever really hope for from an average comedy.