Netflix UK film review: The Lovebirds
Ivan Radford | On 23, May 2020
Director: Michael Showalter
Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Issa Rae, Paul Sparks
Watch The Lovebirds online in the UK: Netflix UK
“You know the song ‘bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when they come for you?’ We’re the bad boys. What are we going to do?” That’s Kumail Nanjiani summing up the The Lovebirds, Netflix’s new romantic comedy thriller in a nutshell. Arriving on the streaming platform this weekend, the film was set to hit cinemas just a few weeks ago, until the coronavirus pandemic led to cinemas being closed. Step in Netflix, which bought the movie from studio partner Paramount to debut online instead. The result is a neat fit for a service that always had need for films that can be easily watched and even more easily pigeon-holed.
Nanjiani plays Jibran, a filmmaker whose relationship to Leilani (Issa Rae) has become stuck in a rut. She’s worried that they’ve lost their spark and spontaneity. He’s worried that she might sneak a look at his documentary that’s been in the work for years and still isn’t finished. But when they accidentally cross paths with Moustache (Paul Sparks), a shady character who commandeers their car, they find their boring routine lives thrown into dangerous chaos.
On the run from cops afraid they’ll be mistaken for killers, what follows is an evening of increasingly absurd encounters. You know, much like 2010’s Date Night, starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey, or 2019’s Murder Mystery, starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. But, like some of the best romantic comedies, The Lovebirds succeeds by taking a familiar formula and, well, being both funny and romantic.
From the off, the focus is very much on Jibran and Leilani’s relationship troubles – more so than in Murder Mystery or Date Night. Essentially on the verge of breaking up, they’re an immediately convincing couple, young professionals who wonder whether they’ve run out of things to say to each other, bickering over pedantic disagreements and throwing sarcastic insults at each other with the kind of overlapping intimacy that only real love, or real hate, can bring.
As a romance, this isn’t as substantial as The Big Sleep, which cemented Nanjiani’s romantic lead qualities – he’s great at being pathetic, neurotic and endearingly earnest all at once. But as a comedy, it juggles its madcap nonsense well, from a surreal encounter with a horse and some bacon to an amusing Eyes Wide Shut parody. Issa Rae, too, gets a chance to muse on the real peril in this tale: the danger of comparing your life to other people’s social media posts.
Scripted with a fast pace by Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall and directed with a loose style by Michael Showalter that allows its stars to riff in between plot beats; he knows that the priority here is keeping things lightweight and upbeat rather than weighty and serious. The result is an entertaining, feel-good rom-com that’s laced with enough bitterness and mayhem to feel fresh – ideal, in other words, for a couple’s night in.
The Lovebirds is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.