As the debate rages on over how recent world events will impact the entertainment industry going forward, it’s nice to still see some major films release on streaming services. Though the field of play between studios and distribution channels may be changing by the day, one thing is for certain: there will always be a demand for scripted content. The Lovebirds, a modern rom-com originally intended for theatrical release, made the jump to Netflix amidst the closing of theaters across America. This new release looks to fill some of our uncertainty with laughs and a love story between two blistering hot “rising” stars in the Hollywood zeitgeist.
Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae play Jibran and Leilani, two parts of a couple currently on a collision course for certain break up. It’s a refreshing set of diverse lead actors in a genre that may feel bogged down by the Caucasian perspective, but I think the comedic talent between our two stars speaks for itself. Jibran is a documentary filmmaker who struggles with the confidence to show his work. Leilani is an ad executive who wishes Jibran would take more risks in his life. These overarching issues are symbolized by the couple’s disagreement over whether or not they could win The Amazing Race, a running joke that ultimately finds its voice by the end of the story.
The context and backstory here isn’t terribly original, as we’ve seen this relationship design over and over again. But The Lovebirds really makes an attempt to keep it as fresh and as modern as possible. I applaud the originality and the willingness to take a rom-com where we have not seen one before, though the first act does contain the generic makings of a classic rom-com. The “essentials,” if you will. The audience initially drops in to meet our main characters on their very first date, a sequence that can only suggest a joyous future together. However, it’s quickly juxtaposed by the reality.
After four years, our “happy” couple is still together, however the term “happy” is used loosely here. On different pages in their relationship, the couple is struggling to keep their spark and trust in each other. Oh no! What crazy circumstance will actualize their love for each other, which in turn reminds our two lovebirds why they’re so important to each other in the first place?! Ahhh, don’t you just love cinema as a formula.
This simple setup leads to the catalyst, and I believe what follows afterward keeps this rom-com from feeling like something we’ve all seen before. Right as Jibran and Leilani decide to break up on their drive to a dinner party, their whole world gets shaken up. After they accidentally hit a biker on the run from a shady figure, the couple finds themselves caught up in a murder mystery that “forces” them to go on the run to clear their name. It’s at this moment that the average rom-com template kind of gets thrown out the window. But the script still makes sure to hit the “cheesy” beats needed to take Jibran and Leilani’s romance where it needs to go.
This is a love story that drives you down the roads of conspiracy, secret societies and corrupted law enforcement. It’s not what you would expect to be in the cinematic world of a rom-com and it sure isn’t our main character’s cup of tea. Irony equals comedy.
Kumail and Issa have solid chemistry and their comedic backgrounds guarantee the viewer some chuckles. It’s a entertaining dynamic on the surface level, but at times it feels like their actions and (in turn) the story get a little messy and unrealistic. There’s a turn of events that actually render all of the preventive measures taken by the couple pointless. The twist certainly succeeded at getting me to laugh in the moment, but it also left me feeling unfulfilled with the story. On a better note, their decision-making proved valuable in mending their own relationship, so good for Jibran and Leilani. Happy ending.
Directed by Michael Showalter, a prior collaborator with Kumail Nanjiani on the 2017 hit The Big Sick, The Lovebirds contains similar visual style and convention but lacks the former’s deeper emotional connection. What’s missing to ensure that connection seems to have been replaced by bigger set pieces and physical comedy. The Lovebirds is a genre-bending experience that’s becoming more and more the standard today. But in certain ways, it feels like it didn’t hit the standard.
The closest comparison I would give this film is Date Night with Steve Carrell and Tina Fey, which is pretty damn close in terms of story now that I think about it. So maybe all that talk of originality was hasty. But The Lovebirds can make you laugh, and sometimes that’s enough.
Verdict: 2.5 out of 5
I’m sure all movie lovers out there are longing for the day when we’ll be able to go see a blockbuster on the big screen again, but The Lovebirds, to me, seems to be a perfect fit for a Netflix release. I finished the film wondering if it really had the legs to be successful in theaters. So maybe it’ll benefit from the easier access from home.