Pay close attention during the early moments of The Lovebirds and you’ll probably be able to outline the emotional undercurrent of this new action romantic comedy, where the central murder mystery pales in comparison to the relationship drama happening onscreen. That’s right, The Lovebirds is yet another “one crazy night” film where the central couple has to learn that if they can make it through actual life-and-death scenarios, surely they can solve the basic hurdles of a relationship at its turning point. Thankfully, that’s not all this love story is aiming for.
Directed by Michael Showalter (The Big Sick), The Lovebirds stars Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae as Jibran and Leilani, who live more-or-less average, upper-middle-class lives in New Orleans (a refreshing change of scenery for a film like this, sorry LA/NY). The spark of their relationship burned hot at the beginning, but fours years in, the cracks are starting to show, and it looks like nothing can save this relationship. That is, until a freak roadside accident escalates into a murder mystery plot, where innocent bystanders Jibran and Leilani certainly appear incredibly guilty. Rather than confront the police and try to reason themselves out of suspicion, they attempt to solve the murder themselves.
Nanjiani and Rae manage to power couple their way through a mostly conventional script and generic characters through sheer force of their own charm and chemistry. This a mostly derivative script that often (intentionally or not) rings of movies you’ve seen in the last two years. There’s the opening montage of Marriage Story, a heavy dose of Stuber (also starring Nanjiani), and this film could of course be labeled an accidental third entry in a fake trilogy including Date Night and Game Night (Role-play Night, maybe?), as it relies heavily on the humor of outlandish violence occurring both to and around our audience surrogates. The only other film this comedy seems more aware of jabbing is Eyes Wide Shut, which happens to be one of the film’s more satisfying riffs.
In addition to Nanjiani and Rae’s comedic talents, which upgrade mostly pale dialogue into genuine moments of levity, The Lovebirds shines in how it normalizes interracial couples where both people are people of color. Never does this film fixate on this dynamic in any way that feels like pandering, nor does it really ignore this reality in the way it frames the plot around their reasonable fear of going to the police in the first place.
The Lovebirds was originally meant to be on the big screen under the Paramount banner, but it was sold to Netflix after its premiere at SXSW was canceled (along with the festival). So, now anyone with a Netflix account can watch this studio comedy on day one, even though the film would arguably have heavily benefited from a crowd experience where you can get caught up in the wild antics of these lovable misfits. However, even at home, The Lovebirds makes for an engaging, heart-warming watch with whoever you’re self-isolating with, or alone, or even through a video call.
Its status as a crowdpleaser certainly comes with a few downsides. First of all, the film plays it pretty safe with the side characters and its villain, who are aggressively one-note compared to the central couple. That could be because Nanjiani and Rae are just too charismatic to compete with, or it could be that the script needed some extra work adding in some flavor for the other performances, as no one else really stands out. The main mystery they need to solve is nothing special or memorable either, just a means to drive the plot along without making you think too much, otherwise you’ll figure it out way too early and get distracted by how long it takes the characters to come to the same conclusions.
If you can set aside some of these obvious shortcomings and accept The Lovebirds as a well-intentioned adventure that recycles a lot of movies you probably already like, you’ll be bound to find something more authentic in the lead performances, as their relationship drama happens to be a little more layered than at first glance.
There’s formidable commentary on how couples compare themselves to other people, either in real life or through social media, and even just the restrained, low-toned utterance of a slight against another person in a fight is enough to make a long-term relationship absolutely crumble. The film isn’t nearly as elegant in driving these characters toward an enlightening conclusion, but it works out pretty simply: you’ll probably like these characters, so you’ll probably like this movie.