“The Lovebirds,” which was originally supposed to premiere at SXSW on Saturday, Mar. 14 before opening theatrically Friday, Apr. 3, made its debut on Netflix Friday, May 22.
Directed by Michael Showalter (best known for being a member of comedy troupes The State and Stella, starring in “Wet Hot American Summer” and for directing 2017’s “The Big Sick”) and scribed by actors-turned-screenwriters Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall, “The Lovebirds” focuses upon Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae). Jibran is a documentarian; Leilani an advertising executive. We see the couple fall in love, flash forward four years and watch as they’re on the precipice of breaking up.
The couple is en route to a dinner party with her friends. The barbs between them grow sharper as each mile passes. When their fight reaches its apex, Jibran suddenly strikes a bicyclist (Nicholas X. Parsons) with their vehicle. The bicyclist is OK and in a hurry to get the hell outta there. Another man (skilled character actor Paul Sparks) opens the driver’s side door, claims to be a police officer, tells Jibran to hop in the back seat, gets in the driver’s seat and is in hot pursuit of the bicyclist. The man eventually catches up with the bicyclist and runs him over … repeatedly. As quickly as he got in the car the man gets out and splits.
Jibran and Leilani, worried that they’re gonna get fingered for the murder, flee the scene. They put their differences aside to investigate the crime and clear their names. Their investigation leads them to interrogate a frat boy named Steve (talented actor and comedian Moses Storm) and as quickly as you can say, “Fidelio,” to an “Eyes Wide Shut”-esque orgy.
I enjoyed “The Lovebirds” a good deal, but it doesn’t reach the heights of Showalter and Nanjiani’s accomplished previous collaboration, “The Big Sick.” The movie starts strongly and maintains this momentum until its halfway point where it begins to drag a bit … this is an issue for a flick that runs a scant 87 minutes. In spite of the sluggishness, Nanjiani and Rae are funny and charming enough to carry the picture to its conclusion.
I was more familiar with Nanjiani coming into the film than I was with Rae. I knew Rae more by reputation than repertoire. I’ve heard many good things about her HBO series “Insecure,” and found her hilarious calling out perceived racism and sexism while announcing the Academy Award nominations with John Cho earlier this year. Nanjiani is good here – Rae is better. She’s an attractive and humorous presence. She even gets the movie’s best and funniest line quoting the commercial slogan of a popular breakfast product.
Somewhat reminiscent of other romantic action comedies such as “Date Night” or “Game Night” wherein couples have a crazy evening that brings them closer together, “The Lovebirds” is better than the former and worse than the latter. It’s much funnier and saltier than “Date Night,” but lacks the flash and panache of “Game Night.” So far as mindless weekend entertainment goes, you could do a lot worse than “The Lovebirds.”