The Lovebirds was originally scheduled to be released in theaters on April 3, 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that obviously didn’t happen. Instead, Netflix acquired the film from Paramount during the pandemic, and released it on their streaming service this Friday. I’m grateful Netflix and Paramount found a way to give us this entertainment during quarantine, but as I was watching The Lovebirds, I couldn’t stop thinking about how some of the bigger comedic moments would have been more enjoyable in a crowded theater.
I went into this film with fairly high expectations. Part of the reason for these expectations was due to the fact that I enjoy Issa Rae’s work and I thought the trailers looked promising, but the primary reason I had such high hopes for this film was because of the team of Michael Showalter and Kumail Nanjiani. These two collaborated on one of the better movies of 2017, The Big Sick, which Showalter directed and Nanjiani co-wrote and starred in. While the story behind The Lovebirds is far different from The Big Sick—it was written by Nanjiani along with his wife Emily V. Gordon and based on a real incident that they faced at the beginning of their relationship—I still had faith that Nanjiani and Showalter could recapture some of the magic they found in their previous film. Unfortunately, outside of the performances from Nanjiani and Rae, there isn’t anything in The Lovebirds that really comes close to the quality of a film like The Big Sick.
I’ll start with the positives before I get to some of my gripes with this film. Strictly from a comedy perspective, The Lovebirds does a lot of things right. To varying degrees, most of the jokes in this film work—and that is due to the performances of Nanjiani and Rae. The Lovebirds‘ two leads have incredible chemistry and comedic timing, so they are able to make a lot of jokes work that maybe wouldn’t have been as successful in the hands of lesser actors/comedians. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Nanjiani and Rae truly carry this film from beginning to end. The film opens very strong with a scene that shows us how Nanjiani and Rae’s characters, Jibran and Leilani, fell in love, which is immediately followed by a scene of the couple in the midst of a fight four years later. From these two opening scenes, the audience both cares about and understands this couple. Unfortunately, the fact that Nanjiani and Rae standout so much in this film actually helps highlight one of its major flaws. Most great comedies, even rom-coms primarily centered on one couple, are boosted by at least one funny and memorable supporting performance. In The Lovebirds however, there really isn’t one notable performance from a supporting character. I walked away from this film not thinking about any actor besides Nanjiani and Rae.
Although Nanjiani and Rae were able to boost a lot of the comedy in this film that maybe wouldn’t work on its own, the same can’t be said for the film’s plot. In my opinion, The Lovebirds‘ story is its weakest element. This film is in the same vein as some recent high concept, all-in-one-day comedies like Game Night and Date Night. Unfortunately, The Lovebirds feels much more like Date Night—a somewhat sloppy and convoluted film that relies heavily on the performances of Steve Carell and Tina Fey—than the much more successful and crowd-pleasing Game Night. The story within The Lovebirds is not very succinct, nor is it all that compelling. As I was watching the film, I sort-of had the feeling that scenes containing important plot information were cut for time. I was left confused by the overreaching plot on more than one occasion, but worse than that, it failed to keep my interest in certain supposed-to-be-climactic moments. I also want to point out that despite a convoluted plot and characters who make more than one unbelievable decision, The Lovebirds contains some very predictable twists and turns that you can see coming from a mile away.
In many ways, it felt like The Lovebirds didn’t exactly know what kind of movie it wanted to be. The madcap plot frequently becomes over-the-top, but there also seems to be a real effort to keep these characters grounded. Sometimes the dichotomy of these two things can actually elevate a film, but The Lovebirds just felt tonally confused. Despite its flaws though, there is enough to enjoy about Nanjani and Rae’s performances to make this 90-minute film worth viewing, especially if you’ve run out of things to watch during quarantine. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, but it does provide some good laughs and helps prove that both Nanjiani and Rae are going to continue to find a lot of success in Hollywood.
Rating: 2.75 out of 5
As this film was supposed to come out in theaters but ultimately found its way to Netflix, I suppose it is important to briefly discuss some of the other films taking similar routes right now. Even though some states are starting to reopen around the country, and Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is hoping to be the film that reopens theaters as early as July, some studios are still choosing to bypass cinemas and make their films available on PVOD or SVOD. Earlier this month, Warner Animation’s newest kid’s film Scoob! was made available to families at home with a price point of $19.99. Netflix, which obviously acquired the rights to The Lovebirds, also announced that they are moving up the release date of Spike Lee’s newest film Da 5 Bloods to June 12, 2020. This is a slightly different situation because Da 5 Bloods was always a Netflix project set to be released on the platform. But, they clearly made the choice to release it in June rather than later in the year because of the current pandemic. On the same day we are getting Da 5 Bloods, we are also getting Judd Apatow’s newest film starring Pete Davidson, The King of Staten Island. And just yesterday Focus Features announced that Jon Stewart’s political satire Irresistible, which was set for a May 29 release date, is headed to PVOD on June 26. So, despite the promising “Coming To Theaters” tag at the end of the newest Tenet trailer, there is clearly still a lot of uncertainty on when theaters will in fact be reopening.