2020 | rated R | starring Issa Rae, Kumail Nanjiani | directed by Michael Showalter | 1 hr 26 mins |

One of the best movies of 2017 was The Big Sick. Directed by Michael Showalter and written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, it was a tightly scripted and refreshingly sweet romantic comedy at a time when Hollywood has put a bullet in the head of cute rom-coms. Showalter and Nanjiani reteam here, but The Lovebirds is more caustic Hollywood rom-com than anything close to the sweetness of The Big Sick. Instead of telling a story, it’s one of those Everything Goes Crazy movies where after a high-concept set-up the movie just clotheslines us with a series of random “outrageous” set pieces and our leads are forced to improvise banter to fill the silence.

Borrowing the framework from another Everything Goes Crazy movie, the Tina Fey/Steve Carrell vehicle Date Night, Lovebirds springboards off of the sputtering relationship between Jibran (Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae). Their latest fight has resulted in a mutual break-up seconds before a bicyclist slams into their car windshield and is murdered by a mysterious man in front of them. The duo run off with the bicyclist’s phone, looking very guilty and decide the only way to clear their name is to try to solve the murder themselves, going deeper and deeper into a shady New Orleans syndicate with crooked politicians and assassins.

The random craziness that pays it off involves Rae in a unicorn costume, secret sex clubs and a bizarre set piece where a politician and his wife tie up the duo and force them to choose between a pan of bacon grease to the face or being kicked by a horse in a barn. I mean, what the hell is this? It’s like the movie was put together with a spinning cage of lottery balls (one such is featured in the climax). One ball said “horse”, another said “bacon” and some studio suit barked “make a romance out of this!”

Nanjiani and Rae are quite good together. Early in The Lovebirds I appreciated how underplayed their one-liners were. This isn’t the type of movie where Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly scream and cry at each other for 90 minutes and for that I deeply appreciated. The problem is the entire movie has that flat tone, even when we get into action scenes or moments of the exes bonding again. Lovebirds requires bigger, more cinematic set pieces than what Showalter can handle here and the mangled pieces are slapped together awkwardly. Joke after joke not only doesn’t land, but feels old and molded over. Jokes referencing The Amazing Race and Katy Perry’s “Firework” feel like a script that sat on the shelf for years and never got a touch up. This is a movie that goes into a Venetian-masked anonymous sex party and makes a “where’s the beef” joke instead of the Eyes Wide Shut joke just sitting on the plate.  Everything here sounds too lose, like someone should have made a few more passes at this draft. It’s an object lesson in comparison for what Game Night did so spectacularly well, if anyone needs a reminder of that.

With a thinly veiled premise to begin with and more one-liners than character concern, The Lovebirds runs out of gas very early. It relies very heavily on the chemistry of two talented leads but then lets them hand out to dry without a solid script. Lovebirds is the latest movie dropped onto at-home streaming after the Covid-19 pandemic shut down theaters in 2020. This may proved to be an interesting strategy going forward: funnel low-stakes comedies like this into the hands of viewers with a very low barrier for entry before they can be savaged by critics or bad word mouth can spread. That lower investment creates lower expectations. The Lovebirds is certainly a step above the Adam Sandler/David Spade crap that Netflix is churning out (Nanjiani and Rae are too good for that) but it is still a lazy piece of improv comedy that fell apart somewhere in the edit and Showalter was unable to be put back together. We should ask for better.

 

Credit: As far as I can tell, the Everything Goes Crazy description for this particular movie trope was coined by Jay Bauman at Red Letter Media. Go to redlettermedia.com