What do you get when you make a film using 90s/ early 00’s rom-com tropes, add a little murder mystery and make your two love interests people of colour dating in 2020? You get The Lovebirds. Originally set to be released this April in theatres, The Lovebirds was swiftly delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and was picked up by Netflix to premiere on May 22. The film directed by Michael Showalter is a romantic-comedy thriller centred around Lailani (Issa Rae) and Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani), an interracial couple going through a rocky stage in their relationship. On the car ride to a friend’s gathering, they hit a biker and get caught in a murder mystery that points them as being prime suspects embarking on a night-long journey to clear their names.
We start the film getting to know Jibran and Lailani as a couple and how they meet before their adventurous night. Both of them are nerdy, ambitious, know-it-alls, that also happen to be socially-aware of themselves concerning the law (for obvious reasons). Many of their funniest scenes together are spent fighting about what place in the competition they’d land on ‘The Amazing Race’ and what defines “real” reality tv. In a short time, the audience quickly gets to familiarize themselves with Jibran and Lailani as two people merely struggling to align both their wants and needs in a way that works for their partnership -basically, every relationship problem ever.
At the beginning of the film, Rae and Nanjiani have a obvious lack of chemistry, which is apparent even after their meet-cute scenes are over. Coming off more as friends with benefits rather than an actual couple, even long after their meet-cute scenes were over. Jibran and Lailani came off as almost just friends with benefits rather than a couple that was supposed to have been together for a while. It wasn’t until the film’s middle that the audience gets to know the functional and albeit dysfunctional ways in which Jibran and Lailani’s relationship operates throughout the film does the awkward chemistry begin to make sense.Their best comical moments were when the audience could almost pretend that it was Rae and Nanjiani as themselves saying the lines, especially as the stakes of their situation became higher. It was most fun to watch Lailani and Jibran use their bizarre night as a strange therapy for their relationship issues which ends up bringing them closer together by the end of the film.
Both Isssa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani give the performances you’d expect for a rom-com but Nanjiani’s performance is what really drives the film forward. Not someone privy to his comedy prior to this film, his off-beat, awkward charm of his delivery works in the best way for the pace of a film like The Lovebirds. Many times he’s on screen there was a guaranteed belly-laugh moment to follow. Nanjiani’s ability to compliment Rae’s comedic style and her well-known commanding presence on screen, is largely what makes the film worth watching to the end.
What Lovebirds could have done without is its use of showing how self-aware it was about its own absurdity. It was funny until it became almost too meta. The actor’s are given lines that closely articulate or match what the audience’s commentary would in the moment in response to the pure absurdity of Jibran and Lailani’s situation. Taking away some of the fun of shouting at the irony of the plot yourself at your screen as the audience member.
Considering it was largely what the plot is based on, the murder mystery aspect of the film was non-sensical at best. Even if it was on purpose it left me scratching my head as to how the two main characters had conveniently come across useful evidence that just so happened to be needed in order to move the plot forward. The film has many funny moments especially with Nanjiani and Rae as its leads navigating an orgy cult, a rogue cop, and trashing a frat boy party, but at other times the comedy was filled corny with jokes and digs to today’s woke culture that made you want to roll your eyes. Jokes that would’ve been funny had it not seemed like the writers probably perused Twitter for hours looking for “what the kids are talking about these days.”
The influx of millennial- figuring-out-adulting references is non-stop throughout the film is almost its own running joke in how unsubtle it is. Even down to their professions was tongue-in- cheek with Lailani who works for an ad agency and Jibrani being a documentary film-maker that considers his work social activism. The film consistently references to online dating, using ride-share apps, to really bang the audience over the head that, yes, these people are millennials dating in today’s world. Even in a scene where Jibran and Lailani are arguing opposing views on the validity of marriage, are conversations I imagine millennials are having today.
What makes the film successful is its ability to take its own wild, insane plot and somehow root it in reality. Jibran and Lailani are what imagine what would happen had you actually put two people of colour together, with their only knowledge of the criminal justice system being that of episodes of ‘Law and Order’ and crime shows off cable TV, and forced them to solve a crime. Completely driven by their limited sense of how to be an effective criminal and using humour along the way to distract from their panic. It’s a fun ride that has enough what-the-fuck moments to keep you intrigued enough to want to continue along Jibran and Lailani ltumultous journey.