The hook of The Lovebirds isn’t bad—what if you were forced into life-and-death circumstances with your significant other moments after you broke up? Unfortunately, Michael Showalter‘s new rom-com never really transcends this hook, and instead falls into standard crime-comedy tropes. In the hands of lesser actors, The Lovebirds would quickly fall apart and feel like a lesser version of a movie like Date Night, which wasn’t that great a movie when it came out a decade ago. But like that movie, your comedy can go along way when you’ve got the right comic actors in the lead roles. Ten years ago, it was Tina Fey and Steve Carell, and today it’s Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani. As a bickering couple who find themselves in outsized circumstances, Rae and Nanjiani bring their unique comic energy to a project that sorely needs it and end up elevating The Lovebirds into a cute (albeit disposable) little date movie.
Jibran (Nanjiani) and Leilani (Rae) had a hook-up that turned into a long-term relationship. Four years later, that can’t really stand each other anymore. They fight all the time, and their relationship is at a breaking point. Driving to a dinner party, they decide to break up, but at the moment they realize their relationship is over, they collide with a guy on a bicycle. A cop (Paul Sparks) then commandeers their car and proceeds to run over the cyclist. Before the dirty cop can kill the shocked couple, he’s forced to flee. Framed for a murder they didn’t commit, Jibran and Leilani also go on the run and try to figure out why the cyclist was murdered in an attempt to clear their names.
The comic energy at the center of The Lovebirds is a lot like watching a crime film with your significant other and debating what you would do in those circumstances and also if all of your dialogue was wittier than the average person’s. Because we know nothing terrible is going to happen to Jibran and Leilani (it’s not that kind of movie), they end up becoming commentators on their own circumstances. This kind of approach can quickly wear thin, and supporting characters even comment on how annoying the couple can be. And they’d be right if you didn’t have Rae and Nanjiani in the lead roles.
There’s a kind of comic charisma that can’t easily be accounted for. You take actors and they’re just inherently likable and charming, and that’s why they’re movie stars. Sure, some of it may be good will from previous projects, but even if you’ve never seen an episode of Insecure (Rae) or Silicon Valley (Nanjiani), you’re immediately won over by these actors. They just have that easygoing nature that makes them feel like people you could know, but also they’re funnier than the people you know. We’re rooting for Jibran and Leilani not so much because of the characters on the page, but because of the actors on the screen and their chemistry together. Even by the end of the movie, it’s hard to make the case that Jibran and Leilani should be together, but we definitely want another movie starring Nanjiani and Rae.
The Lovebirds was originally set to open in theaters before being sold to Netflix since no one is going to theaters for the foreseeable future, and that’s a boon to the movie. As a night out movie, it’s a stretch to say that The Lovebirdswould be worth the effort of going to the theater, but on Netflix, it’s an easy recommendation for a Friday night date movie. You pop it on, enjoy two actors exceling at their profession for 90 minutes, and then you find something else to stream.
The Lovebirds is now streaming on Netflix.