Easygoing chemistry floats a dumb caper comedy
Modern romance gets an action-packed stress test in The Lovebirds, a breezy, playful, overly familiar look at how two people in a fizzled relationship reignite their passions when fate lights a fire under their asses. Nothing’s more clarifying than a gun to the head—or a horse’s kick to the solar plexus.
THE LOVEBIRDS ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Michael Showalter
Written by:Aaron Abrams, Brendan Gall
Starring: Issa Rae, Kumail Nanjiani, Paul Sparks, Anna Camp, Kyle Bornheimer
Running time: 87 min
Instagram-obsessed Leilani (Issa Rae) and chronically caustic Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) are at a standstill after four years together. We’re told that she works at an ad agency and he’s an earnest social-justice documentarian, but neither of those vocations have any bearing on the film at all. These character profiles signal creativity and hipness without screenwriters actually putting in the effort to show that these two are creative or hip.
Anyway, this apparently creative, hip couple bickers endlessly because both of them have grown defensive about their own respective faults and foibles. Marriage was never in the cards, probably because they’re so creative and hip. There’s no discernible attraction left. “Are we done?” says Jibran as they drive to a friend’s party. “I think we’ve been done for a while,” sighs Leilani. And then their Subaru rams into a bicyclist.
Dazed, the bloodied victim gets back up and rides off. A mustachioed man (Paul Sparks) bursts into their car, says he’s a cop, and forces them into a hot pursuit that ends in an alley. Which is where Mustache turns the Subaru into a murder weapon, running back and forth over the bicyclist before running off. Bystanders walk by, see Jibran and Leilani, and call 911 for help. But who is going to believe an Indian-American man and an African-American woman? Their only hope: to solve the mystery behind the jarring homicide. So the on-the-outs couple becomes an on-the-lam detective duo.
Off they go into the night to untangle the intrigue and avoid racial profiling, which is when the filmmakers really start to dip into their grab-bag of used ideas. It’s Date Night with shades of Queen & Slim, plus an Eyes Wide Shut secret-society subplot for good measure.
Whether for tax incentives or as a why-not? flavoring to the proceedings, the film takes place in New Orleans, which adds a mild exoticism, justifies a touch of frat-boy bead culture, and explains the occasional chewy southern accent.
When a movie offers up this kind of thin-gruel story, it lives and dies on the chemistry of its leads. And while Nanjiani and Rae aren’t box-office catnip, they’ve got some respectable comic chops and an easygoing chemistry that keeps The Lovebirds light on its feet. Director Michael Showalter guided Nanjiani adroitly through the far more insightful and heartfelt dramedy The Big Sick, a different type of love story which succeeded at feeling far more real mainly because it was based Nanjiani’s real life with his wife. The Lovebirds is clearly a very different type of movie, but the few times where Showalter concentrates on the couple’s emotional dynamic are actually a lot more riveting than any of the film’s broad antics.