The Lovebirds (2020)

“It’s all kissy and huggy now but it all comes crashing down.”

It makes so much sense that The Lovebirds – a clunky, occasionally charismatic and romantic crime comedy – found a home on Netflix instead in cinemas during a pandemic. The film is unremarkable, doesn’t have much true star value, and is just the right level of mediocre to fit into the streaming behemoth’s advanced algorithms designed to keep us pressing play. The Lovebirds has its moments, yet more often than not, it comes across like a bad meal made by somebody you care about. You politely say you’re full out of respect, but in reality you leave hungry and disappointed.

The film shows promise during its open, introducing us to Jibran (Kumail Nanjiana) and Leilani (Issa Rae) the morning after what could have been a one-night stand. She’s starving and he suggests breakfast. They share food, exchange numbers, swig from a brown sacked bottle while walking through the park, fueling their continued flirtation and their buzz with bubbles. It all happens too fast at barely 3 minutes, but their chemistry makes the small swatch of time palatable and believable. You can imagine this story  developing into a good, classic romantic comedy. And as is rarely the case, I was so disappointed to see it go in the complete opposite direction, squandering what could have been.

A quick cut finds the couple “4 Years Later” – we assume they’ve been together for the duration since it’s never made clear – and on the brink of breaking up. It’s a peculiar transition, and the way the characters interact with each other rarely makes sense. He doesn’t know her favorite show. She posts on social media for clout and likes. Their arguments and spats sound robotic. They aren’t a good couple, that’s for sure. But The Lovebirds wants to be a screwball, murder mystery comedy more than anything else, using the formula as a means of mending the wings of a love that’s gone stale. Some parts work well while others are tragically lazy, and the whole endeavor feels forced to a foregone conclusion. Maybe it’s not the case, but The Lovebirds seems to have had its ending decided before ever molding the middle, and never gives itself the opportunity to organically arrive at the right destination. No wonder the journey is so rocky.

I didn’t outright dislike Michael Showalter’s film even though I hardly remember it. The bland story challenges the strength of a relationship through outrageous circumstance, which happens to be their potential criminal involvement in a murder case, and yet I honestly feel as if a minor tweak could have paid massive dividends in the long run. Given today’s online dating culture, The Lovebirds had the opportunity – similar to the gravely more serious and somehow even worse Queen & Slim from last year – to riff on how a first date can go completely awry before going oh so right. The foundation is there in the open. Unfortunately, The Lovebirds takes wrong turn after wrong turn, opting for loud and brash and largely unfunny improvised jokes instead of fostering the romance at the heart of its title. Issa Rae has star qualities but needs a better story. Kumail Nanjiani has all the smarts but now resorts to kicking and screaming like the recent efforts from Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart. And the film itself, despite having a mildly amusing second half, doesn’t quite live up to its potential. The Lovebirds never manages to take flight, and instead of liftoff, we’re left to wander around an empty tarmac. The in-flight commentary is amusing enough but the sights are decidedly unspectacular, to say the least.

“Why are you being so loud right now?”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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