The Lovebirds is the latest endeavour robbed of a theatrical run as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, now instead debuting on Netflix. Coincidentally, Netflix seems more apt a platform for the Michael Showalter-helmed feature than the cinema, blending in well amidst the streamer’s catalogue of soapy, lacklustre original romcoms.
There’s a great novelty to the breakup movie. Films like Blue Valentine and Midsommar offer catharsis for those dubious about love after a relationship, and The Lovebirds initially strides in that direction when bickering couple Jibrani (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae) call off their relationship early in the first act. Their arguments are exhausting, so much so that the audience is almost relieved for them when they finally call it quits. However, when the pair become entangled in a murder mystery on the way to a friend’s party, it becomes clear that this won’t be a breakup movie at all. Instead, they’re forced to put aside their issues to work together and get out of the precarious situation they find themselves in.
The issue with The Lovebirds, from writers Aaron Abrams and Brenda Gall and The Big Sick’s Michael Showalter, is that it’s lacking an identity. It’s not a breakup movie because the couple are never apart; it’s not about a separated couple’s redemption either because, by the end, they’re still just as petty as they were at the start. While Nanjiani and Rae have strong chemistry together, The Lovebirds just doesn’t know what to do with them, so it throws a hodgepodge of ideas at the wall in the hopes that something will stick. Jibrani and Leilani end up playing detective for an unnecessarily convoluted mystery that involves frat boys, a sex cult, a hacker, and a series of random murders. But the script never cares to elaborate on what’s going on, playing the absurdity of the situation for laughs; instead, it just comes across as mawkish, tactless storytelling riddled with every genre cliche under the sun.
Where Showalter’s previous efforts have had more consideration for character and authenticity, The Lovebirds does not. It’s one-dimensional and contrived in every regard, with no attempt to ground the central romance to make it in any way involving. It’s hard to really care for Jibrani and Leilani’s romantic struggles because they feel like caricatures with a romance that is barely established before it’s broken. There’s also little care for when they rekindle things, not to mention that they do so in a very clunky manner that never feels genuine. Sadly, the script is often lacklustre with cringe-worthy dialogue and attempts at humour that don’t land. More often than not, the conversations between the characters are just annoying.
That being said, both Nanjiani and Rae turn in solid performances with what little they have to work with. They bring an energy to the proceedings that elevates the material; if anyone else starred in the roles, the film would feel suffocating, but the charisma of its leading stars makes The Lovebirds a watchable film albeit not an engaging one. There is also the occasional joke that works; a scene in a shed in the first act is particularly witty but the rest of the film doesn’t have the same sense of playfulness. Considering all of the talent aboard have shown their skill in previous projects, it’s disappointing that The Lovebirds arrives with such whimper. A Netflix release seems like the smart move; maybe audiences will be more forgiving on the film from their home environment, or maybe they’ll just be bored.
The Lovebirds is available to stream on Netflix now.