The Lovebirds released on Netflix over this past weekend. It joins the plethora of movies skipping out on their original and potential future theatrical release. Instead, coming straight to our homes due to Covid-19. This honestly seems like the best-case scenario for this movie, as it likely wouldn’t have been worth the theatrical investment. The Lovebirds, is a traditional romantic comedy that has few laughs and few surprises.
The Lovebirds stars Kumail Nanjiani as Jibran, a struggling documentary filmmaker, and Issa Rae as his girlfriend Leilani. Kumail and director Michael Showalter had previously worked together on The Bick Sick (2017), a solid dramedy. Kumail and Issa are both great comedians and performers. It’s a wonder how these three talents didn’t make an overall funnier film with The Lovebirds.
Romantic comedies have come back in full stride in recent years, with the release of Crazy Rich Asians (2018) and other big hits. The rom-com genre as a whole has a tendency to follow a strict formula, which admittedly most movies do, but the rom-com genre is one of the biggest offenders of this. The story begins with a relationship on the decline, their relationship spark reinvigorated on a crazy night where the couple attempts to clear their names.
It’s commendable how the movie briskly moves over their falling in love sequence, something many rom-coms spend an entire first act or first half on. A four-year time jump introduces us to the couple in the midst of an argument over whether or not they would reach success on the reality show, The Amazing Race. This becomes an obvious comparison throughout the rest of the movie.
The strongest aspect of the movie is the chemistry of the two leads. They work well as a struggling couple with a long history, one whose history we buy and we want to see come back together in the end. This conflict doesn’t take a backseat to the antics either, and the strongest moments in the film are when they play with this dynamic.
Unfortunately most of the humor doesn’t land. One of the worst things about modern comedies is their overabundance of references to other media. Referencing a movie or show isn’t really a joke. It’s not inherently funny. Many poorly written lines too: “Google stalk me,” “Did you think it was of those men only doors?” There’s also distracting ADR; an attempt to add more humor that just doesn’t work. Jibran’s monologues, about the necessity for the silver milkshake container and the point of cigarette lighters in modern cars (which also has a good payoff later), are some of the better bits. There are long dialogue scenes that just drone on and bits that stay past their welcome.
It doesn’t help that the trailer played in front of every release for at least six months. The Lovebirds, is one of the many modern films that gives away the entire movie in its trailer. The only real surprise was the last ten minutes or so. Other than that, all the major plot beats are shown in the trailer. Allegedly, this is what audience members want with modern trailers, but it leaves little surprise for an already paint by the numbers movie. There were also many trope jokes, like when they sing along to “Firework” by Katy Perry. How many times have we seen that scene?
One joke that did use an alternate take from the trailer occurs during the Eyes Wide Shut like secret orgy, where Leilani states, “This is some Illuminati b******t,” instead of “this is some Handmaid’s Tale b******t.” This Eyes Wide Shut (1999) reference could have been marginally funny if better handled, but it’s an odd choice. How many people in this film’s target audience will even get the reference?
Comedies can get away with being by the numbers if they’re funny. Audiences are forgiving in that way. So the biggest sin this film commits is not being funny enough to carry its many flaws. The central concept is fun, albeit has been done before and better. If one is in the mood for a silly comedy with some scattered laughs, this maybe the perfect picture to bring a smile to their face during these dark times. For most, it will likely be lost in their endless Netflix watch lists, and that’s where it should stay.