For years, Kumail Nanjiani has played comedic sidekicks, delivering one-liners with a smirk or an eye-roll to hysterical effect. Meanwhile, Issa Rae’s been slaying as the lead on her comedy series, Insecure. Now, this charismatic pair has teamed up for their biggest film roles to date in the action rom-com The Lovebirds. This is their moment to shine. They know it, and they refuse to waste a single second, delivering a hilarious, heartwarming, and pulse-pounding romp.Directed by Michael Showalter, The Lovebirds follows a New Orleans couple through one wild night that will change their lives forever. Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae) were once an enviable couple, sharing warm smiles, silly jokes, and undeniable chemistry. However, four years in, things have turned caustic. Their night begins with the kind of nothing argument that spirals into a screaming match and stinging insults. A debate about The Amazing Race spins into the two breaking up while driving to a friend’s dinner party. Then, a twist of fate and a couple of panicked mistakes leaves them in an alley with a shattered windshield, a crushed corpse, and the cops on their tail. The lovebirds aren’t murderers, but their story is too strange to be believed. So, Jibran and Leilani set out to catch the real killer and clear their names. On the run, they fall into a wild world of shady characters, Southern-fried torture, and a freaky–but fancy–secret sex cult.
Netflix Spotlight: May 2020
While the trailers for The Lovebirds were a bit lackluster, the movie itself is full of fun. Like Game Night or The Out-of-Towners, it embraces the manic mayhem that can be had by chucking Average Joes (and Janes) into a bizarre quest that hurls them out of their comfort zone. The script by Aaron Abrams, Brendan Gall, and Martin Gero sets up our odd couple swiftly. He is, as a cerebral documentarian, obsessed with schedules and order; she is a free-spirited advertising exec, devoted to spontaneity and social media cache. Then, over the course of the first 20 minutes, they lose their car, phones, sense of safety and their stylish clothes, which are swapped for tacky fast-fashion complete with unicorn-horned hoodie. But in all this loss, they find a new freedom to be the badasses needed in this DIY murder investigation. Plus, they rediscover their romantic spark.
The “action” of this action-comedy is pretty low-key, involving one car chase, a handful of escapes, and a slew of comically violent fight scenes. Still, these scenes pack a punch because of the superb comic timing of its stars. This delightful duo throws themselves full-bodied into pratfalls. Their faces stretch wide in cartoonish terror when confronted by gun-wielding (and grease-wielding) foes. Their voices scratch at goofy wails when under stress. When bickering, they exchange banter at a crackling speed that not only makes the jokes zing, but also underlines the intimacy between Jibran and Leilani. Their sharp tones and weariness suggests nitpicking over the details of a TV show are fights they’ve had before. These bickering bits are hilarious but also a bit heart-wrenching, because who among us hasn’t been in that place, in that familiar pettiness?
It’s no surprise that Nanjiani and Rae are hysterical together. They’re clearly in their comfort zones when it comes to goofily badgering a could-be culprit or riffing jokes during an Eyes Wide Shut-like orgy scene. However, what’s most exciting in The Lovebirds is how well they click as romantic leads. Rae is radiant as Leilani. When she’s not landing jokes or glowering in bad cop mode, her broad smile is contagious as she earnestly sings along to Katy Perry on the radio.
Nanjiani is her pitch-perfect screen partner. He previously wooed audiences with his autobiographical rom-com-drama The Big Sick, but here he offers something broader and surprisingly steamier. Before his MCU makeover made him a muscle man, Nanjiani laid down a thirst trap here with a shirtless scene that not only displays some solidly resplendent chest hair, but also the sparking sexual chemistry he shares with Rae. A lot of rom-coms can make you root for their characters because they are funny together. Far fewer pull off the heat that The Lovebirds offers.