REVIEW: The Lovebirds (2020)

Original Theatrical Release Poster – Paramount Pictures

The following is a review of The Lovebirds — Directed by Michael Showalter.

The Coronavirus Pandemic has had a serious impact on the film industry. The future of the movie theater industry is uncertain as some films that were meant for a theatrical release have been released on video-on-demand or streaming services, while many of the year’s biggest films have been removed from the 2020 theatrical release schedule entirely. This Michael Showalter romantic-comedy, The Lovebirds, was originally meant to be released in theaters by Paramount Pictures in April, but when theaters around the world closed their doors, the film studio sold its rights to Netflix, who finally released the film on the 22nd of May. The Lovebirds fits right in on Netflix, but, quality-wise, it is a significant step down from The Big Sick, Showalter’s previous film as a director.

Michael Showalter’s The Lovebirds follows Jibran (played by Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (played by Issa Rae), a couple that has been together for four years. While arguing on their way to a dinner party, they accidentally drive into and collide with a cyclist. The cyclist is visibly injured and looks scared, but he doesn’t want Jibran and Leilani’s help. He quickly gets on his bike and rides away. While catching their breath, a man who claims to be an off-duty police officer (played by Paul Sparks) commandeers their vehicle to chase down the man on the bicycle. Since they now think that they hit a criminal with their car, they do their best to guide and help the man who has commandeered their vehicle, who they nickname ‘Moustache.’ But when they finally track down the cyclist, ‘Moustache’ deliberately drives into the cyclist, and then runs him over with their car repeatedly. When they hear police sirens, the mysterious man runs off and leaves Jibran and Leilani at a crime scene, which civilians now see them at. Scared that police won’t believe their side of the story, they run away from the crime scene while a frightened civilian tells police that she thinks Jibran and Leilani killed the cyclist. Suddenly, the two ‘lovebirds’ find themselves deeply involved with a murder, and they soon decide that the only way to clear their names is to solve the crime.

One of the things that made Michael Showalter’s previous film, The Big Sick, so great was the writing. The film — which also starred Nanjiani — was written by husband-and-wife-duo Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, and it was even inspired by their own relationship. It was a fun, charming, and wise romantic-comedy that, rightfully, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Showalter’s follow-up does not have that awards-worthy writing, and, while I actually love the premise and concept of the film, I am not wild about the execution. I believe the biggest problem with the film is the writing. In my mind, the narrative arc is extremely predictable, and I also think that the ending is slightly anti-climactic. I think that the writers have wasted the potential of their Eyes Wide Shut-like cult sequence, which is surprisingly unfunny. Worst of all, though, I think it is a shame that the central characters are so thinly written. I actually really like that they made Nanjiani’s character a documentary filmmaker, but I just wish there was a little bit more to him and Leilani.

Although I have some fairly significant problems with the film, this just-short-of-90-minutes high-concept comedy, which has elements of both romance and thriller films, was pretty much exactly what I needed to see right about now. It satisfied my desire to watch a solid comedy with committed lead actors that share great chemistry. Make no mistake, this film does not work without Rae and Nanjiani’s talents. Their mutual comedic understanding carries the otherwise middle-of-the-road writing, and, while their bickering inside of their car became annoying to listen to fairly quickly, their line-deliveries were very effective. Even when the dialogue doesn’t make a lot of sense (seriously, why would you rather have sizzling bacon grease poured over your face than be kicked by a horse?), their timing and witty delivery held the scenes together. Nanjiani and Rae were just really fun to watch. The opening of the film, which shows them going on some of their first dates, is really charming, and they share great chemistry throughout the film. There were a couple of moments that made me laugh out loud, but my absolute favorite bit of comedy was the way Nanjiani’s character referenced the “Bad Boys,”-song popularized by Cops.

While it doesn’t live up to Michael Showalter’s previous film, The Big Sick, it is funnier, and better, than Michael Dowse’s Stuber, which is the last comedy that Kumail Nanjiani had a leading role in. I also think that this is much better than the vast majority of Netflix Original Comedies, even though it has some rather significant problems. Ultimately, Michael Showalter’s The Lovebirds would not have worked if it were not for the comedic rapport shared by Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani, who are both very fun to watch here.

6.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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