The Lovebirds, 2020
Directed by Michael Showalter
Starring Issa Rae, Kumail Nanjiani, Anna Camp, Paul Sparks, Betsy Borrego, and Kyle Bornheimer
A couple (Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani) experiences a defining moment in their relationship when they are unintentionally embroiled in a murder mystery.
The premise of The Lovebirds is dangerously simple and deceptively cliché, but to the benefit of the silliness on display. Director Michael Showalter (his most recent effort The Big Sick was the antithesis of this flick, featuring racial tensions and tearjerking terminal illnesses among its many funny moments) reunites the filmmaker with the hysterical Kumail Nanjiani, this time with the addition of co-star Issa Rae. They are Jibran and Leilani, your standard movie couple that discovers they are perfect for one another before a few-years-later flash-forward to long after the honeymoon phase of dating. It’s a period now consisting of such frequent arguing they can’t even decide on dinner plans, let alone some other goofy topics such as orgy semantics and their prospects of hypothetically entering and winning The Amazing Race.
The difference in tone can quickly be explained away; The Lovebirds is not another passion project written by Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon but put together by a team of writers (Aaron Abrams, Brendan Gall, and Martin Gero) heavily leading into slapstick and broad humor. It sets itself apart from similar comedies by having the bickering partners stumbling into an incident that sees them unintentionally participating in a murder. A pair of pedestrians come across the two (with the real killer long gone) standing over the dead body fighting over what to do, before a citizen’s arrest is made, leaving them on the run from the police.
Shortly after, Jibran and Leilani make clear that they are no longer dating but that it makes sense to stick together trying to exonerate themselves. Essentially, what ensues is the suspects finding clues as they go and wandering from address to address, inadvertently finding themselves in absurd situations that don’t necessarily offer any answers, but sparks a little bit of hope in the now-defunct relationship while reminding them what they once and might still find attractive in one another.
Again, such plainness doesn’t exactly sound convincing, and The Lovebirds doesn’t really use these characters as anything but a means to comment on obvious flaws with society (whether it be over-fascination with social media, contentedness of being an artistic failure, or even something as basic as all relationships have their ups and downs), but it’s REALLY fucking funny. Frankly, that’s all that matters.
Jibran is the introverted one of the two and would be fine never leaving the house whereas Leilani is more of a planner, a go-getter (she has a successful career in advertising), and is more upbeat. The circumstances of the murder itself are strange, to say the least, offering up hilarious dialogue (I’m sure there’s also a great deal of outstanding improv work from the on-screen duo, as most scenes often run long with them using their excellent chemistry playing off of one another for jokes), but the longer the night goes on they are placed into such unexpected uncomfortable situations that the laughs generated only become louder.
The brisk running time of 84-ish minutes without credits keeps the two flowing from one wacky encounter to the next (alongside some ridiculous wardrobe changes), with each new segment coming across as a sketch comedy skit. Naturally, some locations make for funnier results than others, with one particular sequence near the ending bringing the movie into full ” what the hell is going on” hijinks. There’s not the most intriguing mystery on hand and the actual culprit is instantly forgettable, but it also doesn’t hurt the experience much. It’s evident that Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae took a barebones story with a clever concept, injecting it with a double dose of their own electric goofball charm. The Lovebirds isn’t necessarily compelling, but anytime one of them opens their mouths chortling is inevitable. Thankfully, these lovebirds never stop squabbling.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com