Remember when romantic comedies were fun? From Coming To America to Groundhog Day to Peggy Sue Got Married, during the 80s and early 90s, romcoms were some of the best films Hollywood had to offer. Then, somewhere during the late 90s and 00s, filmmakers elevated the schmaltz and subdued the comedy element until romantic “comedies” were anything but. Although they were still successful and profitable in the 00s, as a genre, romcoms became run-of-the-mill and mediocre; too many Bridget Jones and Knocked Ups and not enough Mannequins and Overboards. This brings me to The Lovebirds, a film that hopefully marks a renaissance of comedy romances in the 20s.
The Lovebirds stars Issa Rae (Little) and Kumail Nanjiani (Stuber) who play Leilani and Jibran respectively, a couple on the verge of a breakup who are unintentionally embroiled in a murder mystery. This movie was scheduled to be released in cinemas on April 3rd this year but due to the Coronavirus lockdown, it was instead sold to Netflix who release it on their platform today.
Before I get into the writing and direction, I have to say that it’s nice seeing an interracial couple on screen that doesn’t include a white character, something that has become a Hollywood cliché and a contrived and overdone visual trope. It’s odd that the world and Hollywood itself is home to various ethnic mixes including Mario Van Peebles’, Lisa Bonet’s, Michael Ealy’s, and Dave Chappelle’s partners and yet on screen we keep seeing the overused one white and one black couple dynamic. It’s quite annoying that in 2020 this kind of casting choice is still unusual and the fact that I have to point this out means we have far to go.
Back to the movie; the film opens four years into Leilani and Jibran’s relationship with Issa and Kumail’s characters bickering over pointless things such as reality shows, documentaries, and the show The Amazing Race. On their way to a dinner date, the couple are involved in an accident, a car-jacking, and a murder. As they flee the scene of the crime, their life for one night becomes “like The Amazing Race with dead people” as Leilani describes it. The pair decide to solve the crime themselves and this allows Jibran and Leilani more time to bicker but also time to reflect on and rekindle their relationship.
The plot which involves a sex cult, blackmail, frat boys, bacon grease (and the all-important traffic camera) is enjoyable and somewhat intriguing. The humourous descriptive names the couple give to everyone involved in the murder (“Bicycle”, “Mustache”, and “Date Rape”) is a nice touch and there’s lots of funny lines besides. One scene involves a police car driving toward them and in typical fugitive-movie fashion they say “he’s on to us” but when the police car keeps driving (whilst the cop stares at the couple) they say “no, he’s just a regular racist”. With Bicycle’s smartphone, the couple go to the location of his calendar events, read his messages, and follow the various clues which leads them to Eyes Wide Shut-esque “Illuminati bullshit”. Although the conclusion to the mystery is somewhat subdued and an anticlimax, the unfolding plot is fun to watch.
Director Michael Showalter (who directed Nanjiani’s other, in my opinion slightly overrated romance drama The Big Sick) along with writers Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall, collectively keep the comedy coming and the story moving along; the action is humourous, the relationship, breakup and pauses for reflection are touching, and the unfolding adventure is amusing. Thanks to the writing and direction, there’s a zippy pace which means you’re never bored. The two leads are of course the main reason to watch this movie, their comedic performances and chemistry makes the adventure, comedy, and romance enjoyable and a pleasure to watch. I’m not sure if I would have been completely satisfied with this film had it been released in the cinema but in a home setting The Lovebirds is very pleasurable and one of the best films on Netflix right now. Whether you’re a fan of Issa Rae, Kumail Nanjiani, or any of the aforementioned 80s romcoms, this movie will definitely hit the spot.