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Review: The Lovebirds – “The laughs it delivers are a welcome distraction”

Image Skip Bolen/Netflix

The current climate lends itself especially well to lighthearted fare, which is exactly what Netflix is banking on. The Lovebirds, a new comedy starring and executive produced by Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) and Issa Rae (Insecure), was originally slated to have its theatrical debut April 3rd after a premiere at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in March. But with SXSW cancelled, and life effectively cancelled for that matter, Paramount made the decision to sell the film to Netflix, where it currently is available for viewing as of May 22nd.

Whether that decision was good or bad and how studios should consider the new landscape is a subject that could (and has been) debated, however cinephiles thirsty for new theatrical content will likely be happy to view new fare originally destined for the big screen. You could do a lot worse than The Lovebirds, which largely delivers on some much needed escapism.

We meet Leilani (Rae) and Jibran (Nanjiani) on an awkward “morning after” that quickly turns into breakfast, then lunch and then cocktails as they wander the streets of New Orleans. Their romantic connection was instant, but fast forward four years later and the two are on the brink, finding everything to argue about, including whether or not they could possibly win the Amazing Race. Their fight continues while en route to a friend’s dinner party where they finally confess to one another that they need to break up.  Upon the realization their relationship is over, they hit a man riding his bike with their car, unleashing a night of unravelling mystery, criminal activity, and increasingly awkward circumstance.

With its story taking place within the span of one night, The Lovebirds is apt to earn comparison to the 2010 comedy Date Night with Steve Carrell and Tina Fey, and rightly so. That pair starred as a married couple stuck in a rut who get caught up in some mob business after spontaneously taking someone else’s reservations at a restaurant.  There are plenty of similarities to draw on, including the chemistry between its two leads. You can even compare The Lovebirds to the exceedingly well-executed 2018 comedy Game Night with Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman, a film that excels at the ‘one crazy night’ premise (honestly if you haven’t watched that film you’re missing out).

Yes, The Lovebirds isn’t terribly original on concept, however, it’s hard not to watch without a smile on your face, especially in the moments where Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae are in full banter mode. Their fast-paced wordplay allows for several laugh out loud moments and the affable nature of the two stars make it light and watchable. They are the reason to view this film, distinguishing it from its predecessors, even when you feel familiarity.

Director Michael Showalter (who also directed Nanjiani in The Big Sick) works from a screenplay from Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall, and none offer up anything truly new here. Showalter lets the jokes come quick, sometimes blink-and-you-miss them fast, often not seeming to care if they truly land. However at a swift 87 minute run time, The Lovebirds never overstays its welcome, which certainly would have been a danger. The reliance on the comedic pairing of its leads is obvious, but luckily for the filmmakers it largely pays off.

Yes the situations in the film are silly, the decisions made by characters questionable at best, but with Rae and Nanjini centre stage it’s prevented from becoming terribly absurd.  The laughs it delivers are a welcome distraction. Whether The Lovebirds would have been a box office success is a question that will never be answered, but perhaps it’s time to measure success in more than just numbers.  Currently, perhaps success is maybe best measured in a film’s ability to attract, and keep your attention. This has been a hard one for me as of late, but The Lovebirds largely succeeds.

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