The Lovebirds was originally headed straight into cinemas, a big brash comedy for the big screen. However recent times have sent it direct into home-viewing via Netflix. That might be why it in some ways feels bolder than their usual comedy efforts, a film that finds cringe humour through the unexpected. While it is easy to find the laughs here, its the deeper elements, the discussion of modern relationships, sex and different perspectives that functions but never impresses.
Leilani (Issa Rae) and Jibran’s (Kumail Nanjiani) relationship is on the rocks and both of them are starting to give up. When they find themselves at the centre of a crime, they find themselves forced together in a hairbrained scheme to find the real culprit and clear their names and maybe, just maybe, finally get away from each other.
Directed by Michael Showalter, who previously collaborated with Nanjiani on the critically acclaimed The Big Sick, The Lovebirds seeks to normalise certain elements of relationships that seem foreign from the outside and writers Aaron Abrams, Martin Gero and Brendan Gall smartly never use sex as a punchline, even when the film’s plot devolves into a questionable scene involving underground orgies. Here it is the illogical lies, poor interrogations and moronic hardman routines that feel most uncomfortable and rapturously funny, in the most cringe inducing ways.
Rae and Nanjiani maintain a comedic flow even when The Lovebirds detours into poorly fleshed out dramatic moments that don’t function in a film where murder is used as a sight gag. Despite a believable chemistry, the often selfish way these two characters look at the world around them means that their problems often feel trivial, the kind of stuff they bring on themselves and detracts from the fun. While Showalter’s previous film threaded the needle between drama and comedy thanks to an honest, true to life script, his latest only functions when it remains in its lane, letting its two leads bounce off fast paced one liners off each other.
Although there is a clear drive to look at how we can often be on different pages, even within the same relationship, the film’s often breakneck pacing never allows for even a moment of reflection so that when they do try to talk through their problems, you sometimes forget they even have any. The refences to Jibran’s documentary and Leilani’s advertising career are the only real hints at who these people are outside of this brief snapshot and we are pushed to accept that these little nuggets are more than enough. They aren’t.
It would all be depressingly damaging if the performances here weren’t as good as they are. Rae is particularly funny, an empathetic yet blisteringly savage voice to counteract Nanjiani’s shy sarcastic tone. The two raise a distressingly basic script into a thoroughly entertaining comedy that feels fresh because of how it treats these two characters as people for whom their relationship is not the most important thing about them. It’s just a shame the writing couldn’t have pushed it even further.