The Lovebirds does indeed feature a pair of lovers. Unfortunately, they deserve a better screenplay.
Oh, how I wish I could recommend a movie simply for its humour and the cheerful chemistry between its actors, without any regard for its plot, vision or design. Not every movie is fortunate enough to be well-rounded, but the good ones at least have a story engaging enough to satisfy us till the end.
The Lovebirds, directed by Michael Showalter, has no such story. Instead, it scribbles together a skeleton plot, ripped from many other comedies in which goofy innocents are wrongfully accused, and watches happily as its cast squares off in a manic joke-athon.
The entire picture is one saggy clothesline on which an endless stream of verbal riffs and sight gags are hung, culminating in a climax that is neither clever, fun nor unexpected. It has an originality rating of about zero. Thankfully, though, it knows how to be funny, mainly because its two lead actors know how to be funny. More importantly, they know how to be funny with each other.
Kumail Nanjiani plays Jibran, a documentary filmmaker in New Orleans who hates reality TV. Issa Rae plays Leilani, his girlfriend of four years who yearns to be on The Amazing Race. You can see where they have problems.
They are so different in fact that one day, on their way to a dinner party, they decide to break things off. Just then, they are carjacked by a man claiming to be a cop (Paul Sparks) who has to hunt down and apprehend a fleeing cyclist. After catching up to and running the poor cyclist over multiple times instead, the man splits, leaving Jibran and Leilani as the primary suspects of a gruesome murder.
I dunno, does all this sound familiar? The rest of The Lovebirds is spent hurriedly following the hapless, bickering couple across the city as they try to solve the murder themselves while evading the cops, occasionally stopping for obligatory interludes that have to remind them of all the lovey-dovey reasons they got together in the first place.
The movie is essentially an exercise in behaviour and verbal agility. There must’ve been hours and hours poured into the screenplay, yet it feels like Showalter yelled “Action!” at the start of production, sat back and allowed Nanjiani and Rae to improvise everything, then yelled “Cut!” after 86 minutes. Nothing truly hilarious or exciting ever happens, not even when Jibran and Leilani stumble into a secret cult and become witnesses to an orgy.
The plot is dead on arrival. The developments that take the bumbling duo from one lead to another are uninspired. I don’t know why it took the two of them four years to realise their differences. I don’t like the way the movie so neatly ties up everything in the end, given the messy way it all began. What I do like, and enjoyed very much, is the easy chemistry between Nanjiani and Rae. They are cute together, really funny, and when they make each other laugh, I completely get why.
The Lovebirds is available on Netflix Australia from May 22
Images courtesy of Netflix Inc.