Sometimes, things just don’t work out. Going in with the best of intentions doesn’t matter when the spark isn’t there. What’s worse is that sometimes expectations are out of whack and we end up disappointed and dejected. We’ve all heard it before, “it’s not you, it’s me…” (but, let’s be honest, we all know that this just wasn’t working). Oh, in case you missed it, I’m talking about The Lovebirds.
I’m sorry, The Lovebirds, I really wanted this to work. On paper, you’re my ideal but there just wasn’t any chemistry. I wish you all the best and hope you find happiness somewhere, it just won’t be with me.
The Lovebirds stars Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) and Issa Rae (Insecure) and is directed by Michael Showalter (who also directed The Big Sick). In The Lovebirds, longterm couple Jibran (Nanjiani) and Leilani (Rae) are at a crossroads in their relationship. It seems that love has run its course and with the future of their relationship in question, the pair heads out for a tame evening out. Things go from bad to worse to outright bizarre when a hit-and-run accident turns into a murder mystery and the pair must solve the crime to clear their names.
In the mind of this critic, The Lovebirds will always be significant because it was among the first major casualties in the entertainment industry due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The film had been set to premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival in Austin, TX before the festival was canceled entirely. After hovering briefly in uncertainty, Netflix picked up the film for streaming. More on that later.
Star Power, Plain and Simple
It’s amazing how much the right cast can make or break (or, in this case, save) a film. The greatest credit I can extend to The Lovebirds is the decision to cast Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae as its leads. While their performances are imperfect and it’s apparent that the script did not make the most of their individual talents, the duo is legitimately funny and their charisma carries the entire film. The likability of the two stars will be instrumental in drawing audiences in.
The bulk of The Lovebirds is tired and predictable and suffers from lackluster writing, but there are a few key moments that do shine. In an entertainment landscape that is crying out for a more diverse representation of interracial couples and people of color on film, The Lovebirds is a tonic. Once again, that credit goes entirely to its stars.
In association with that, it was refreshing to see the film comfortably discuss tensions between people of color and the police as a legitimate means of contextualizing the plot. This is a minor thing, but it speaks to a broadened gaze and more honest stories being told at this level. Which is always a good thing, even if the rest of the film doesn’t live up to that degree of thoughtfulness.
No Sparks Between Us, Baby
We’re not operating under any delusions here: romantic comedies exist under a tried and tested formula. There is no expectation that The Lovebirds was going to ascend to any cinematic height other than giggles and light entertainment. As ludicrously predictable and blasé as the film was, it’s impossible to blame the tropes of the genre for The Lovebirds not working. The Lovebirds fell short because the leads, for all their talent, had no romantic chemistry.
The only thing believable about Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae, as a couple, was the brief interlude that shows them in a tired and uninterested relationship. These are gorgeous and funny people, there was no excuse for viewers not feeling the love, but the script absolutely neutered any potential for connection and sex appeal. There was no pause or emotional weight to their scenes and each interaction devolved into irritating riffing and talking over one another. It’s expected and it’s funny once or twice, but the relentlessness of it killed the emotional stakes and romance of this on-screen couple. Just as this critic has spent an evening or two, laying in bed unsatisfied, regretful, and wishing she’d just left things “as friends”, one can’t help but think the pair would be better suited to a buddy comedy.
The gaps in the script extended to a very bad habit of picking up great concepts and then promptly putting them back down. Great tidbits of character insight and development were haphazardly mentioned and tossed aside. Possible threads that could lead to any semblance of intrigue were just as quickly discarded. It’s infuriating to reexamine those details, in hindsight, and fantasize about the better movie that was being teased throughout the viewing. For example, why would a character that has spent four years researching and documenting corruption, not have some sort of skills or knowledge that would come in handy in a murder mystery that touches government and police corruption? Surely that interesting little character tidbit would come up. Was this an editing problem? A script problem? Who is responsible for that??
The Lovebirds in Larger Conversation
Regrettably, the most interesting thing about The Lovebirds exists outside of the film itself. As mentioned previously, The Lovebirds was one of the first films to be stripped of its festival premiere and to forego its theatrical release in favor of streaming. Ever since this decision was made the question has lingered: Did the decision to go to streaming help or hurt The Lovebirds? Further, what does this mean for the future of film in response to coronavirus concerns?
We’re of the opinion that, in the case of The Lovebirds, streaming ended up being an appropriate home for the film. For all its flaws, the film is very watchable and any of the hard-edged objections we have to the film are softened a tad when considering that it is streaming straight into our homes. It’s light and fun, at least.
At the end of the day, The Lovebirds feels like a bad first date. You go in full of hope and a mind for flirting and fun and leave without a meaningful connection. The cons far outweigh the pros, making it hard to recommend. It’s a suitable streaming watch, but one can’t help but wish for something more.
What did you think of The Lovebirds? Let us know in the comments!
The Lovebirds is now streaming on Netflix.
Watch The Lovebirds
Does content like this matter to you?
Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.