Falling in love is easy, staying in love is hard, at least in The Lovebirds. This breezy rom-com from director Michael Showalter takes the immensely likable, very good looking Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani, and sets them on a madcap capper involving mistaken identity, blackmail, and murder. It has all the makings of the type of mid-budget piece of entertainment Hollywood tends to avoid these days. A light runtime (86 short minutes), two attractive leads – what’s not to love? Well…a couple of things.
We meet Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae) on their first date, and it’s a smashing success. The two are clearly smitten with each other, and the chemistry radiating between Nanjiani and Rae is palpable and charming. Smash-cut to four years later and Jibran and Leilani are a firmly established couple living together – but the spark is gone. They spend less time being romantic and more time bickering about, well, everything, be it The Amazing Race or Leilani’s friends. The romance has evaporated, and they’re on the verge of a break-up.
But what’s a better cure for wilting love than murder? While heading out to meet up with friends, the couple accidentally hit a guy on a bike with their car. The bicyclist appears unharmed and pedals away, clearly freaking out about something other than being hit by a vehicle. Before Jibran and Leilani know what the heck is happening, their car is commandeered – with them in it – by a rather skeezy looking guy (Paul Sparks) who claims he’s a cop. The couple believes him at first, but then realize something is very amiss when the “cop” runs over the guy on the bicycle – over, and over, and over again.
The murderer flees and, of course, Jibran and Leilani are spotted by witnesses who think they did the deed. Having no proof of their innocence, and convinced that the cops won’t believe them, the couple flees, and then proceeds to spend the bulk of the movie trying to clear their name while also figuring out who the mysterious murderer was, and why he ran down the man on the bike in the first place.
So far, so good. But The Lovebirds script, by Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall, begins to flounder after these opening sequences. So much of the plot involves Jibran and Leilani acting like idiots – which we know they’re not – that The Lovebirds begins to grow tiresome. And the central mystery, which involves some Eyes Wide Shut-inspired shenanigans, is a dud.
What keeps The Lovebirds singing is Rae and Nanjiani, who really are great together. Even when their character actions irk and annoy, the two performers keep things lively with their constant back-and-forth. With a better script, The Lovebirds could’ve ended up being a modern-day screwball comedy, but alas, it falls short.
There’s something respectable about how simple this film ends up being. There’s no grand design here; no set-up for an inevitable franchise; no huge budget special effects. You get plenty of that in indie films, but The Lovebirds – which is premiering on Netflix, but was originally a Paramount movie – is a studio pic. It’s refreshing to see such a laid-back exercise from the Hollywood system.
Unfortunately, The Love Birds just isn’t that funny. Don’t get me wrong – Nanjiani and Rae are funny, and they try really hard to make this material pop. But the jokes fall flat more often than not, and the direction from Michael Showalter (who also directed Nanjiani in The Big Sick) is oddly lax, with scene after scene embracing the unstylish “point and shoot” approach.
In these uncertain times – sorry, I’m required by law to use some version of that phrase at the moment – audiences could use a good laugh. It’s too bad that The Lovebirds can’t manage to give it to them. But those starved for any form of new entertainment might find enough enjoyment in watching Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani as they stumble around on screen, desperately searching for a better movie that suits their talents.
/Film Rating: 5 out of 10