The Lovebirds movie review: breaking up on the run

part of my On Netflix Globally series
MaryAnn’s quick take: The hugely appealing Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani share terrific comic and romantic chemistry and work their everywoman and -man charm to the max. Go-to goofy escapism for, say, a pandemic lockdown.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
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A couple sick of each other, and finally admitting that it’s probably time to call it a day on togetherness. And then some good old-fashioned crime has them reconsidering reconsidering their relationship. It’s the feel-good go-to escapist comedy of the pandemic lockdown. They run around New Orleans with no social distancing! They go to a dinner party! They take multiple Ubers!

The Lovebirds was meant to be a theatrical release, for date-night outings to the multiplex. Unlike the other two (so far) shoulda-been-big-movies that have gone straight to home viewing — Trolls: World Tour and Scoob! — this one isn’t for children, and it’s free for the asking (as long as you have Netflix). But it’s still great viewing for date night, or any other kind of grownup reason.

The Lovebirds Issa Rae Kumail Nanjiani
Ugh, does he have to do that: breathe in, breathe out…?

In the current Great Debate over whether sending big new movies direct to streaming will kill the theatrical model, a movie like this one is a far bigger threat than a couple of kiddie flicks. Because hanging out with the likes of Issa Rae (The Photograph, Little) and Kumail Nanjiani (Men in Black: International, A Happening of Monumental Proportions) — enormously appealing separately, and with terrific comic and romantic chemistry together — is a cosy, comfortable thing that feels perfectly right enjoying from your sofa. A little serious and a lot silly as longish-term couple Leilani and Jibran, their relationship is warm, relatable, and realistic. They don’t feel like movie stars pretending to be in love, or falling out of love. They feel like that couple you’re friends with, the couple where you actually like both of them, whom you’re having over for a fun evening.

As the movie opens, Leilani and Jibran are having an argument that you first think is a serious disconnect over something important, and then you learn it’s just a sort of jokey faux fight over a bit of pop culture they cannot agree on… and then you realize that there’s no “just” about it, and no joke, and that how they see past each other over a TV show is, in fact, very possibly indicative of a deeper issue, a fundamental rift between them. The sneaky little nugget of wisdom in that, that small, seemingly inconsequential ideas we have about how we see the world can have a big impact on how we feel and act, will run through their misadventures to follow.

The Lovebirds Kumail Nanjiani Issa Rae
Can a bit of masked intrigue inject a spark into a faltering romance?

On their way to a dinner party — an outing that is laden with its own specific issues for them — they get caught up in a rapid-fire series of connected crimes that they feel they have no choice to try to solve on their own. Because, you know… they’re not white, and so going to the police is risky. (How refreshing to see an interracial couple onscreen that features no white people! It’s also important to see a movie that deals with the everyday racism that people of color have to contend with that’s depicted in a way that isn’t dismissive even as it is lighthearted.) They know their involvement in what has happened sounds absurd, and we know it does, too, even if we know it’s true because we watched and laughed — yes, laughed — and gasped in shock along with them.

Of course the shenanigans they find themselves in the midst of are hugely ridiculous, and perhaps not entirely plausible even on their own terms. But The Lovebirds reminded me pleasantly of 2018’s Game Night, in how it’s about ordinary people who get caught up in movie-movie mischief and violence, and how they play along with it even as they’re slightly horrified with themselves over it: Rae and Nanjiani work their everywoman and -man charm to the max. It makes the flip side of the story work in a way that a pair of more rarefied performers might not have been able to pull off: that a romance that has hit the rocks could merely need a bit of excitement to rock it out of its rut. In an otherwise goofy movie, that lesson is smartly and gently deployed.

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Steve Gagen
Steve Gagen
Sun, Jun 13, 2021 3:49am

Sounds great – hope it’s still on one of my streaming channels here! I particularly like the point of not going to the police ’cause they’re not white. That resonates with my experience of growing up on a housing estate in South London. You didn’t go to the police – police were for the rich folks with posh accents.

Steve Gagen
Steve Gagen
reply to  Steve Gagen
Mon, Jun 14, 2021 3:44pm

Watched it tonight! I liked it very much, but the film presumes the audience watches and is familiar with some TV show called The Amazing Race. I haven’t and I’m not! Who watches broadcast TV anyway?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Steve Gagen
Tue, Jun 15, 2021 11:25am

I’ve never seen The Amazing Race either, but I don’t think the film loses anything if you haven’t. You can still pick up what’s going on from the context.

Steve Gagen
Steve Gagen
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Tue, Jun 15, 2021 5:16pm

I still enjoyed it and could work it out – just irked me a little. When are people going to stop referencing TV shows, in comedy, in films etc? Young people don’t watch broadcast TV at all!

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Steve Gagen
Tue, Jun 15, 2021 11:26am

I particularly like the point of not going to the police ’cause they’re not white.

And this same story wouldn’t have worked if the couple were white. Cuz you’d spend the whole movie shouting at the screen, “Just go to the police already!”

Steve Gagen
Steve Gagen
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Tue, Jun 15, 2021 5:14pm

Indeed it wouldn’t!