A film and TV series geek
Lovebirds Leilani, played by Issa Rae (left) and Jibran, played by Kumail Nanjiani (right). (Netflix/File)
Editor's note: This article may contain spoilers.
As is often the case with action comedies like Date Night and Murder Mystery, Michael Showalter’s The Lovebirds does little to shake up a stalled genre.
The premise is one we’ve seen countless times before, and the formula that Aaron Abrams uses to tell the story is painfully predictable: there’s an outlandish car chase, over-the-top violence, a ridiculous conspiracy. But all of that doesn’t automatically make The Lovebirds a bad movie, especially when it has powerhouse comedy stars Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani in the leading roles.
Rae is Leilani, Nanjiani is Jibran, and they are a couple on the brink of a breakup. When we meet them for the first time, things are still looking good. Leilani always knows what’s on Jibran’s mind. They finish each other’s sentences, and share some flirtatious banter at a cafe.
But that’s four years before they start realizing that they might not be a perfect fit for each other. What was once full of love now has devolved into constant suffering. Jibran thinks that Leilani is too shallow while Leilani thinks that Jibran is indecisive. A little argument about The Amazing Race turns into a big fight, and it’s not the only thing they’re bickering about all the time.
While the two are on their way to a friend’s party, they decide to put the final nail in the coffin and mutually agree to go their separate ways. “Are we done?” Jibran asks. “I think we’ve been done for a long time,” Leilani answers with a tiny bit of heartbreak slipping between her words.
But their breakup suddenly gets interrupted when a mysterious man (Paul Sparks) hijacks their car to go chase another man in a bicycle (Nicholas X. Parsons). The man tells them he is a police officer, and without thinking further, both Leilani and Jibran believe him. But it doesn’t take long before we notice that this guy is bad news. And indeed, it’s proven when he kills the guy on the bicycle by running him over a few times, then fleeing the scene, leaving both Leilani and Jibran as the main suspects of the murder.
What follows is a desperate attempt to prove they are innocent — an attempt that leads them to discover a much bigger mystery involving a group of frat boys doing questionable things, a congressman with secrets, a weird sex cult named Sacrarium, more murder and a bunch of other stuff that recalls Jason Bateman’s excellent mystery/comedy Game Night two years ago.
But while the self-investigation that Bateman and Rachel McAdams’ characters do in Game Night is where the movie gets most of its memorable moments, things are quite the opposite in The Lovebirds. In fact, it’s where the movie begins to lose steam.
Throughout the majority of the movie, Abrams’ script leans heavily on the physical comedy of the action and the nonstop silliness that Leilani and Jibran put themselves into, thus leaving the relationship, or at least what’s left of it, on the sideline most of the time. If in the beginning, the movie doesn’t establish itself as a story about how difficult it is to maintain a relationship, all of that certainly wouldn’t be an issue. The problem is, The Lovebirds is first and foremost about Jibran and Leilani’s relationship, not the murder mystery. That’s why when the movie goes full gonzo on the mystery, it begins to look confused about what kind of story it wants to tell.
Thankfully, both Rae and Nanjiani give phenomenal performances that are enough to overcome the shortcomings found in the script and the direction.
Nanjiani, who demonstrated his comedic chops in Showalter’s previous feature The Big Sick and HBO’s Silicon Valley, is outstanding as Jibran. He peppers every scene with chaotic energy while maintaining the anxiety that his character has.
But it is Rae that steals the movie most of the time. Her performance is tenacious, and her joke delivery is always on point. On top of that, she manages to layer Leilani with enough depth and vulnerability, even though the script doesn’t provide that.
It’s honestly a testament to Rae and Nanjiani’s acting skills that The Lovebirds remains fun and watchable until the very end despite having a lot of flaws.
Though the jokes don’t always land, and the execution is far from impressive, The Lovebirds, in the end, has done a good enough job at providing a slice of entertainment and escapism from the bleak reality that we’re all dealing with right now.
Just don’t expect too much from it. (kes)
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