The Lovebirds: It Doesn't Soar, But It...Glides?

Rafael Sarmiento
Rafael Sarmiento
February 15, 2021

After months of nonstop excitement, the moment is finally here. I finally get to talk about The Lovebirds. I’m not saying this ironically. I have been dying for this movie to come out, along with My Spy. Why these films in particular? Because something awakened in me when I saw last year’s Stuber. I sat by myself in a nearly abandoned movie theater and got to enjoy a movie that wasn’t a remake or reboot, wasn’t a 2.5 hour blockbuster, wasn’t a safe approach Disney film, and as much as I love them, wasn’t a superhero film. It was something fresh, as fresh as a buddy comedy can be. I love Kumail Nanjiani, and likewise, I love Dave Bautista (a much better wrestler-turned-actor than The Rock).

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Stuber was…OK, but over time, I’ve sort of grown to love it, and it was a much-needed change of pace, as I said. So yes, Bautista’s My Spy and Nanjiani’s My Spy showed promising signs of originality, even if they aren’t stellar masterpieces. I want to relive the terrifying lows and the dizzying highs that Stuber gave me. With the COVID-19 outbreak, both movies escaped my hungry clutches by a few weeks, and I was furious. But The Lovebirds found its way to Netflix today, and My Spy is set to be released on Amazon sometime.

So, in my determination to support a bit of originality, I went out of my way to claim The Lovebirds for myself, using my position as head editor of Incluvie to ensure I would be the first critic on the team talking about the film. I told my poor beleaguered fellow writers, hungry for new releases, that The Lovebirds was mine, and mine alone. I even threatened to assign them to review painfully bad movies like Garbage Pail Kids if they so much as glanced at The Lovebirds with a critical lens. Is this abuse of power?

Yes.

The Lovebirds is directed by Michael Showalter, who has directed one of my top 100 movies, The Big Sick(which my co-editor Ethan reviewed here), and Showalter also co-created the absurdly hilarious Wet Hot American Summer franchise. Showalter is pretty big on improvisational humor in his scenes and relying on his cast to deliver rapid fire punchlines, which worked perfectly in The Big Sick with Nanjiani in the lead role.

The Lovebirds also co-stars Issa Rae, who is quickly climbing up to eventually be a top billing actress in the industry. I confess that I haven’t seen the majority of her work, namely her hit series Insecure, but the filmography of what I have seen her in has been nothing but good. So with that in mind, I watched The Lovebirds with a lot of hype, but that doesn’t mean I had sky-high expectations.

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The Lovebirds follows the story of Jibran (Nanjiani) and Leilani (Rae) as they begin the painful realization that their 4 year relationship might be coming to an end. Almost immediately after they decide to break up while arguing in their car, they hit a man on a bicycle, who proceeds to flee. Before they can do anything else, another man hijacks their car, claiming to be a police officer, and he runs down the cyclist and kills him. The murderer flees and leaves behind Jibran and Leilani, who panic and flee due to the murder appearing to be their fault, and due to the fear of being two minorities under police investigation. They decide to try and solve the case while on the run, and hijinks ensue. It’s basically a comedic version of last year’s Queen & Slim (which I reviewed).

I think that The Lovebirds is one of those movies that has a very direct appeal when it comes to its comedy. There isn’t a singular style, so much as tidbits of various ones here and there. Sometimes the jokes are improvisational, sometimes there’s slapstick, sometimes it’s pop culture references. I don’t think every joke is a bullseye, but at the same time, none of them are outright bad or suffer from being incoherent. And even if some of the comedy is underwhelming, the performances from Rae and Nanjiani really help elevate everything, which is exactly what I hoped for.

The Lovebirds’ story and convoluted telling of it is in a similar vein to The Big Lebowski or Showalter’s Wet Hot American Summer, in that the murder mystery really isn’t the focus of the story, it’s just a device to move things along and get away with crazy humor. The story also juggles Jibran and Leilani’s relationship (hence the title) as they re-examine why they broke up, and if it was worth it. If anything, that’s the real meat of the story, because (spoiler in the following 2 sentences) there is a hilarious reveal that the police never once thought Leilani and Jibran were never suspects for the murder, because the entire thing was caught on video (it was in broad daylight in public, after all). The entire dilemma and all the hoops the couple jumped through were essentially for nothing, and their panic led them to make reckless judgement calls.

The subversion of expectations like that is one o the movie’s strong suits, and it helps keep the audience laughing; though curiously, not invested in the murder mystery. That being said, the romance is a pretty generic, which is extremely disappointing, seeing as Showalter and Nanjiani delivered one of the best romantic films ever made with The Big Sick. And while a lot of the film can be fun, it comes to a bit of a halt whenever the couple has to ruminate on their breakup, and it’s never once believable that they will stay broken up. Had they stayed as exes, I think that actually would have helped the film a bit, but the “get back together” route was pretty predictable.

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That all being said, there were a few scenes that definitely justified my viewing of this film. The first was the scene from the trailer that had me hooked, where the tied up couple faces punishment for crossing the wrong people, and their options are bacon grease to the face, or a mysterious punishment from behind a door. Unfortunately, the trailer spoils the punchline, but it still had me laughing when I saw it in the film. Don’t watch trailers, folks. Another great scene was a massive Eyes Wide Shut type secret society gathering. The big scale of the scene felt like a movie, like something I can’t really get out of a play, and the reveal of what the society is is exactly what I was hoping it would be, and it had been hinted at earlier, so the payoff was very funny. And perhaps best of all, there was an interrogation scene that reminded me of a similar one in Stuber, with Nanjiani doing a “bad cop” kind of routine to get information out of a criminal and failing miserably, and Issa Rae at his side played off his mannerisms and jokes perfectly. The interrogation had me genuinely laughing out loud, as opposed to those polite huffs of air through my nose or small giggles.

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In terms of diversity, The Lovebirds knocks it out of the park. Nanjiani is Pakistani-American, and one of the most prolific voices in the industry pushing for more inclusion and diversity in filmmaking. Likewise, Issa Rae has quickly climbed the ladder of success with her various projects revolving on life as a Black woman in the United States. Having the two of them team-up works from both a talent perspective and as a scale of diversity. The movie also kicks off because of their fear of being pursued by police as minorities, and there is a lot of witty banter concerning their struggles as minorities peppered throughout the film. It really helps to have two different minorities lead the movie, and give a different perspective on just about everything.

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So that’s The Lovebirds. I’d garner it’s worth a watch, and seeing as most people have access to Netflix, it’s pretty easy to get a hold of. I was so adamant about seeing this movie, because even if it wasn’t spellbinding or life-changing, it was something new and not an adaptation, remake, reboot, sequel, or big blockbuster franchise. Look at the line-up for 2020 movie releases! And some of the few original ones that did come out almost killed me; Like A Boss was genuinely one of the worst movies I’ve had to sit through. So yes, go out and support movies like The Lovebirds, because if not, we’re just going to have Transformers 13: Hobbs & Shaw vs. Predator one day.

Actually, that sounds kind of cool.

But you get my point. The reality is that the big studios won’t do a crazy cool crossover like that, and instead, it’ll just be Transformers 13 or Hobbs & Shaw 5 or another Predator remake that ignores all movies except the original. We need more originality, so I’ll take what I can get, and if what I can get is decent enough, I’ll be pretty happy. That’s The Lovebirds. I’m happy I saw it, and I’d like to see more like it.