Current Issue #488

Film Review:
The Lovebirds

Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani in The Lovebirds

Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani are pretty much the whole show in director Michael Showalter’s goofy action comedy, and they keep distracting you from how silly the rest of it is.

Another bigscreen victim of the pandemic that went to Netflix after its cinematic premiere couldn’t go ahead, this wobbles and wanders around trying to fill in 86 minutes, but Rae (who initially rose to fame on YouTube) and Nanjiani (who Showalter directed in his breakthrough The Big Sick) are always fun to watch, and ensure that it’s a nicely dopey guilty pleasure.

Opening the morning after Leilani (Issa) and Jibran (Kumail) spend their first night together, when things look romantic as Hell, we then quickly cut to four years later where the pair are arguing about everything: TV’s The Amazing Race; filmmaker Jibran’s work making documentaries; her supposedly overly flirty friends; and so on, and on, and on. Fortunately, at the very moment when it looks like they’re going to break up, they collide with a cyclist on a New Orleans street and are immediately thrust into one of those notably episodic, slightly hard-to-follow murder-mystery-cum-endless-chases, and although they keep on bickering, you know full well that all this slightly nasty nonsense will help in bringing them back together. Awwww.

With Detective Martin (Andrene Ward-Hammond) on their tail, Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall’s script has the duo also pursued by a killer (Paul Sparks as ‘Moustache’), running into iffy Edie (Anna Camp from the Pitch Perfect movies), reeling off sharp jokes about whether the police can actually help them or not (for multiple reasons) and engaging in oodles of semi-improvised chat. And some of the setpieces are niftily-handled, including a half-hidden fight to the tune of Third Eye Blind’s ‘90s one-hit-wonder Semi-Charmed Life, and a time-wasting but nevertheless bonding singalong to Katy Perry’s Firework in the back of an Uber (how romantic!).

Some might suggest that Showalter’s movie is a variation on the already-seriously-familiar Date Night (from back in 2010) and other recent comedies, but in fact this kind of plot has been kicking around for decades. It even owes a debt to Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest (1959), even if that beloved classic didn’t have the couple-getting-back-together business, the strong violence, and the many barbed jokes about race.

Familiarity aside, this is worth it for Issa and Kumail, whose charm and chemistry carries the film through its shakier moments.

Reviewer Rating

The Lovebirds (MA) is now streaming on Netflix

DM Bradley

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