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Netflix’s ‘The Lovebirds’ is an ideal Friday night distraction: Review

The Lovebirds wasn’t supposed to be a Netflix movie. In some other, nicer timeline where COVID-19 never existed, it’d have hit theaters back in April, against The New Mutants and Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway.

In this one, though, it’s become a Netflix exclusive. And truthfully, that may be the ideal home for it.

Directed by Michael Showalter, this amiable rom-com fits into that very specific category of films you might put on at the end of a long week, when you’ve got a glass of wine, a comfy couch, and a desire to be entertained, but can’t commit to anything that requires you to think too hard, feel too much, or pay too much attention.

‘The Lovebirds’ feels liable to blow away at the lightest breeze, disappearing so quickly you might forget it was ever there.

The Lovebirds asks none of these things of you. It opens on two likable leads, throws them into a crazy scenario that yields many surprises but no real shocks, arms them with jokes worthy enough of their crackerjack timing, and then nudges them along toward a pleasant ending before they can overstay their welcome. I laughed a bunch, went to bed, and did not think about any of it again until I sat down to write this review.

If this description appeals, The Lovebirds‘ greatest strength is that it never takes anything all that seriously. Even its potentially harrowing premise — Leilani (Issa Rae) and Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) witness a murder, and out of fear they’ll be arrested as suspects, resolve to crack the case before the cops catch up to them — is played purely for laughs.

It does nod at some of the more troubling realities underlying that idea with jokes, like a funny bit involving a white woman witness who feels compelled to clarify that she’s not accusing Jibran and Leilani of having killed a guy just because they’re people of color, she’s accusing them and they happen to be people of color. But The Lovebirds steers clear of any truly thorny territory, all the better to keep bouncing along its wacky trajectory. 

The movie is slightly more interested in exploring Leilani and Jibran’s rocky relationship, which comprises the emotional core of the movie. They’re introduced via a lovey-dovey montage of their first date, which then cuts to a four-years-later scene of them bickering over The Amazing Race in their apartment, and sure, movie, I guess it is kind of a bummer that this nice couple is on the verge of a breakup.

Leilani and Jibran in simpler, happier times.

Image: Skip Bolen / NETFLIX

Leilani and Jibran come across as inherently likable people because Rae and Nanjiani are inherently likable performers, and are fun together because these two are fun always. (Heck, Nanjiani even almost made Men in Black International work.) But the script, by Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall, never manages to make either of these characters much more than a banter machine, and the actors don’t have interesting enough chemistry to sell Leilani and Jibran as a match made in either heaven or hell. 

Still, they are really good at that banter. The Lovebirds is most enjoyable not in its zany escapades, which vary wildly in cleverness, but in the conversational digressions that Jibran and Leilani take through them — riffing on everything from documentaries (“They’re just reality shows no one watches!”) to those “extra” cups of diner milkshakes, to the logistics of group sex. It may not be quite convincing when a friend describes Leilani and Jibran as “the best couple ever,” but it’s very easy to see them as the funniest couple in their friend group.

And there are worse ways to spend an evening than with that couple. For 87 minutes, The Lovebirds makes it the simplest thing in the world to just sit back and see what gem of observational humor might drop next from Nanjiani or Rae’s lips, or admire just how cute they look together even when they’re bruised and desperate. Then, once that time is up, so is any investment in these characters, their world, or their story, none of which felt quite real in the first place. 

Which is admittedly a bit of a letdown, considering the team behind The Lovebirds got where they did by making things that stick with you long after the credits roll: the unruly weirdness of Wet Hot American Summer (Showalter), the bright insights of Insecure (Rae), the heart and hilarity of The Big Sick (Showalter and Nanjiani). 

This one, by contrast, feels liable to blow away at the lightest breeze, disappearing so quickly you might forget it was ever there. It’s not great. But there are times when good enough feels kinda perfect — and when that evening comes, you can rest assured that The Lovebirds will be there for you.

The Lovebirds is now streaming on Netflix



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