Director: Michael Showalter
Writers: Aaron Abrams, Brendan Gall
Composer: Michael Andrews
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Issa Rae, Paul Sparks, Anna Camp, Kyle Bornheimer
Genre: Romance, Comedy (Romcom), Action, Crime
If Juggernaut were a real person, he would be a she. And her name would be Ideal Rae, because she is unstoppable!
Okay, that cheesy line sounded better in my head, but cheesiness does not make it false. After all, The Lovebirds was initially supposed to premiere at South by Southwest, and then theaters. However, the ‘Rona shut down both. That did not stop Netflix from purchasing the rights from Paramount Pictures and making the movie available for streaming. Between The Photograph, season four of Insecure, and The Lovebirds, Issa, as we call her with fondness, appears to be in perpetual motion—hence unstoppable. Unfortunately, where she shines in drama, her momentum falters where encouraging laughter is an expectation.
Violence: A man repeatedly runs over a cyclist. In another scene, a hitman executes a room full of young men in the background as a gag supposedly takes place.
Language and Suggestive Themes: The Lovebirds is a film for adult audiences, as profanity in the F-bomb tier is common, let alone “lesser” swears. Characters joke about participating in an orgy at the beginning of the film. Expect the Lord’s name to be taken in vain.
Sexuality: The protagonists witness a spontaneous orgy. Bodies are shadowed and blurred; if one exerts themselves enough, it is possible to see a nip-slip.
Drugs/Alcohol Use: In the first ten minutes of the film, the protagonists walk around sharing a bottle in a brown paper bag during daylight hours. Social drinking should be expected.
I know I am not completely out of touch with the current generation’s understanding of courtship, because Crazy Rich Asians resembles which I am familiar. Man seeks out wife, man asks permission for her hand in marriage from potential wife’s parents if they are in the picture, man introduces potential wife to his own parents, couple gets married. The steps may not necessarily be in that order.
In contrast, when The Lovebirds opens with Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae) exiting a building and agreeing that the previous night was really fun, suggesting a possible overnight hookup, I do a double-take. Director Michael Showalter sells this idea as they awkwardly agree to go to breakfast. Afterward, Jibran asks for her last name, and she flakes because she does not want him to creep on her via Google; here, I am not sure if serious. If Leilani’s evasiveness after Jibran asks her for a last name is intended to be a gag rather than a reflection upon how folks these days conduct themselves, exchanging bodily fluids before full names, then perhaps I am too old to review this movie after all. Jibran and Leilani hang out with each other throughout the day and eventually share their first kiss. This is the equivalent of a batter running the bases backward after a hit.
Alternatively, maybe I just have standards. We learn that at least one character does too, because the film cuts to four years later, in the middle of one of their arguments. Leilani hand-waves Jibran’s gesture toward marriage, and he prickles. The difference of opinion escalates during a car ride to ad hominem, at which point they are both stunned by their own ugliness toward each other, realizing that their relationship is doomed.
After all of this transpires during the film’s first ten minutes, it shifts Blue Valentine to The Naked Gun. As he drives, a distracted Jibran hits a cyclist who is more interested in an escape than medical aid. A man declaring himself to be police but does not show his badge commandeers the couple’s vehicle. A car chase ensues with the suspect pedaling for his life to no avail. As seen in the trailers, the police officer cartoonishly drives over the man repeatedly while Leilani and Jibran sit in prolonged awkward silence—long enough for the officer to get out, examine the body, and decide to take care of the loose ends who are our protagonists. Sirens in the background alarm this…cop, and he flees. Leilani and Jibran exit the vehicle to panic around the dead body, and Leilani picks up the dead man’s cell phone. When two hipsters cut around the corner and see them standing over a corpse, Jibran and Leilani panic even more before awkwardly running away (I am intentionally using “awkward” repeatedly to underscore The Lovebird’s struggles with humor). Now fugitives, the dead man’s cell phone provides the first clue out of a series that they will follow in order to unravel the grand mystery as to why a police officer would murder a man in cold blood. Ah, the film tries to establish its own meta concerning an earlier joke concerning Jibran and Leilani participating in The Amazing Race.
As I reflect upon how two BIPOC become fugitives in a romcom, I can understand why Paramount Pictures would hurry up and try to get this film off their plate while other distributors like Disney hold on to their delayed releases for dear life (I really want that Mulan remake). Alas, a cop behaving like a hired hitman is not exactly marketable considering the global protests in response to police brutality. On the other hand, one could argue that The Lovebirds is percipient in its portrayal of a police officer as villain.
Notwithstanding my appreciation for an (un)intentional commentary on police conspiracies, I still expect my romcoms to contain both elements of the compound word. This detective adventure that emerges as the driving force of The Lovebirds to justify the forced Stockholm syndrome that Leilani and Jibran experience, because they are unwilling co-conspirators in a murder plot, is in bad taste during a time when #MeToo continues to highlight the abuse that happens through coercive interactions. Besides, Queen and Slim already did the whole protagonists-mutually-hate-each-other-and-somehow-managed-to-reconcile plot, and did it better.
The Lovebirds features perhaps ten minutes of “romance” between the opening and ending shots, and I already indicated the problems within the first five in my introduction, and the latter five in the previous paragraph. So what about comedy? I involuntarily managed to Straight Face Ace my way through the entire affair. I think that Issa and Nanjiani were aiming for improvisation rather than well-written lines in order to generate humor, but the approach falls flat. What they attempted here strikes me as a prolonged In Living Color skit but without the talent of the Wayans family, Tommy Davidson, David Alan Grier, or Jim Carrey. As a result, the solution to the grand mystery that lasts through the film’s runtime is a prolonged punchline from a conversation that takes place during the film’s opening prologue argument. If only the clue or the jokes were funny….
Seriously, do these two look like people who can make you laugh?
My wife, Jacquelyn, suggested that I inebriate myself before the second viewing. I consider the necessity of “experience enhancers” an indictment of the film’s inadequacies. I can’t find any reason to be grateful for the ‘Rona, but I’m glad that I didn’t have to pay to see The Lovebirds in theaters. Leaving a rom-com while mad about it might have ruined a date night.
+ Soundtrack is not bad + Kumail Nanjiani, Issa Rae are given an opportunity that was originally not intended for BIPOC, and revised the script so that it would make sense for them.
- Not funny - Not romantic - Genre confusing - Ends not with a happily-ever-after, but with an ambulance proposition
The Bottom Line
Issa Rae has been hitting nothing but home runs in the past few years, but The Lovebirds might be her first strikeout.