A romantic comedy starring the funny and talented Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae and directed by Michael Showalter (who helmed the poignant and unique 2017 rom-com “The Big Sick,” also starring Nanjiani) sounds like a definite winner. But Nanjiani and Rae’s talents outshine the script for their new movie “The Lovebirds,” which fails to do much of anything different with a premise filled with mediocre gags.
Nanjiani and Rae play Jibran and Leilani. The film opens on their first date, and the pair jive so well together that it seems like love at first sight. Jump to four years later, and Jibran and Leilani are still together, but endlessly fighting. As they head out to a party at a friend’s house, they decide that maybe it’s best they break up—and then they are carjacked by a man (who they nickname “Moustache,” played by Paul Sparks) pursuing a cyclist. When the man kills the cyclist and flees the scene, leaving it to look like Jibran and Leilani committed the murder, the pair go on the run. They decide to try and solve the case themselves to clear their names as opposed to turning themselves in, forcing the couple to work together—and reevaluate their relationship.
“The Lovebirds” starts out on a promising note. The cut from Jibran and Leilani’s romantic first date to their loud bickering is funny, as is their reaction to the crime they see committed (afterwards they stumble into a diner, where Jibran exhaustedly asks the waitress for “two alcohols”). But after that the film’s attempts at humor get kind of spotty. Some of the jokes land, while others come off as awkward, like a sequence early on in which Jibran and Leilani are imprisoned and threatened by a woman named Edie (played by an over-the-top Anna Camp). And the only reason why the humor that does work works is because of Nanjiani and Rae’s delivery. They are each hilarious individually, but put together, they have great chemistry and perfectly embody both a couple whose relationship is on its last legs and a couple who is completely out of their depth with the situation they’ve gotten involved in.
In fact, the mystery that Jibran and Leilani are trying to solve really isn’t even that intriguing. The most interesting and entertaining parts of the film revolve around their relationship. The scenes, like the one at the very beginning, where it’s just the two of them and they get to go off at each other for a couple minutes without interruption are some of the most fun. But the film also effectively shows the couple realizing they still care for each other and falling in love all over again as they are forced into these bizarre, life-or-death scenarios.
“The Lovebirds” was originally supposed to be released in theaters at the beginning of April, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, its rights were sold to Netflix and it made its streaming debut on that platform this weekend. With its under 90 minute runtime and breezy tone, it’s just the right sort of film to go to Netflix. But I also can’t help but wonder if some of the scenes would have seemed funnier in a crowded auditorium as opposed to the awkward silence of my studio apartment. If you decide to turn on “The Lovebirds” while you’re at home, it won’t be a waste of your time. But like the majority of movies that go direct to streaming, it isn’t very memorable either.
“The Lovebirds” is now streaming on Netflix. Runtime: 86 minutes. Rated R. 2.5 out of 5 stars.