Finding its rightful home amongst a catalogue of similar light-hearted streaming fare, having The Lovebirds hit Netflix, after being initially scheduled for theatrical release, may have spared the rom-com a box-office grilling.
Exposure to murder may just salvage once-doting New Orleans couple Leilani (Issa Rae) and Jibran’s (Kumail Nanjiani) troubled relationship. After witnessing the murder of a cyclist, their death caused by an unknown moustache donning miscreant (Paul Sparks), the Insta-loving Leilani and the highly inquisitive Jibran postpone their looming breakup as they set course on a whirlwind feat to prove their innocence.
Powered by the magnetism of the effortlessly charismatic Rae (do watch Insecure if you haven’t) and Nanjiani (do watch Silicon Valley after you have watched Insecure), The Lovebirds sets itself apart from similarly plotted films (à la Date Night (2010) and Game Night (2018)) by positioning itself into the political heartland of present-day America.
While avoiding police has become a staple of the genre, with white characters traditionally confused as the criminal offenders, The Lovebirds deviates from the flock by affirming real-life prejudicial practices – particularly race relations with police – into its narrative. It is a hard-hitting note that punctuates otherwise frivolous antics; its rightful inclusion – however jarring of mood – setting the bar in documenting racial inequality and demonstrating prudent judgement by the filmmakers.
Politics aside, director Michael Showalter (who had previously collaborated with Nanjiani in 2017’s The Big Sick) remains on course to deliver what he sets out to do: a relationship-driven romp filled with malarkey and tomfoolery. Suspense, admittedly rather meaningless in the grand scheme of the genre, takes the backseat in favour of laughs and biting dialogue, with the two aloof lovers throwing-out scathing jabs as frequently as they do longing glances.
That said, The Lovebirds does fall asunder when drifting away from Leilani and Jibran’s electric dynamic, with scenes involving no-nonsense Southern-fried Anna Camp and the ultimate reveal, underthought and somewhat undoing of the film’s racial subtext, creating some unevenness.
Aside from this occasionally rigid and familiar storytelling, there remains enough sizzle in Rae and Nanjiani’s performances to keep The Lovebirds a-soarin’.