Issa Rae as Leilani and Kumail Nanjiana as Jibran of Netflix's The Lovebirds

The Lovebirds

Dept. of LOLs and ROFLMAOs


I was really looking forward to seeing The Lovebirds on the big screen. Romantic comedies are once again having their moment and the slow creeping death of the mid-budget movie means that we hardly ever see these things in cinemas any more. With the success of movies like Set It Up, Crazy Rich Asians, and Always Be My Maybe, however, it was starting to feel like Hollywood was finally getting over Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler in The Ugly Truth. But then this pandemic happened and relegated one of just a handful of rom-coms to actually get a theatrical release to Netflix.

I was really looking forward to seeing The Lovebirds on the big screen because I miss the communal experience of watching a comedy. I miss the way my seat vibrates from the ebb and flow of laughter that fills the hall. I miss those scattered chuckles, a consequence of deep cuts that not everyone gets. I miss hearing the sole cackle, from the lady in the fourth row, to whom that one joke hit a little too close to home. I miss doing that with other people.

Of all the movies that have skipped their first-run theatrical releases and made their way directly into our homes (Emma., The Hunt, Trolls World Tour, etc.), The Lovebirds is the first to make me miss the cinema. Why? Because it’s funny. So funny that it reminded me how much I missed laughing with a room of complete strangers.

Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani star in Netflix's The Lovebirds

Right from the get go, The Lovebirds subverts your expectations by opening where your average rom-com ends. We meet Leilani (Issa Rae) and Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) in a montage that essentially compresses the third act of every boy-meets-girl love story you’ve ever seen. We then flash forward four years and bear witness instead to the foundering of their relationship.

The story then immediately kicks into gear. There’s a road accident, a carjacking, a chase, and a murder. Our two leads, still reeling from the cold reality of breaking-up, suddenly find themselves on the run. What better way to rekindle a dying relationship than to immerse yourself in a criminal conspiracy?

All of this happens incredibly quickly. At just 86 minutes, this is a movie which leaves very little time for aimless wandering or indecision. It’s tightly plotted. There’s very little fat. And the jokes come at you hard and fast.

Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani star in Netflix's The Lovebirds

The Lovebirds also cements the fact that Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani are bona fide movie stars. Yes, they’re playing versions of characters we’ve seen them do before, but the way they pull off both the screaming comedy, and the low-key dramatic moments of a couple coming apart at the seams, prove that they are equally matched in every way. Neither Rae nor Nanjiani are playing it straight. They’re both goofballs in their own way.

There is also a genuine kinship between the two of them. You believe that Leilani and Jibran are a couple who love each other, but haven’t quite figured out what to do with themselves after the magic of the meet-cute fades. Their arguments, their individual triggers, are real and raw. As is the evolution of the way their characters see each other.

Where the both of them really shine, however, is in the physical humour. They way their bodies react to the various unfortunate situations in which they find themselves, successfully creates a feeling of discomfort that transcends the screen. (There is a hostage situation in a barn involving bacon grease that will have you rolling in the aisles laughing out loud on your couch.)

Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani star in Netflix's The Lovebirds

In The Big Sick, the previous collaboration between director Michael Showalter and Kumail Nanjiani, the comedy was rooted in a very specific cultural context. In The Lovebirds, I loved that there are absolutely no references to the fact that Leilani and Jibran are an interracial couple. There’s one throwaway joke involving a police patrol and casual racism, but it was refreshing that the writers didn’t lean into that and take the easy way out to make us laugh.

What’s more, screenwriters Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall manage to strike the right balance of romance and comedy, always careful to not let one element undercut (or overwhelm) the other. They also make an effort to tie up most of their narrative leaps of logic. This is a movie that, over the course of its runtime, satisfactorily answers all of the questions you’ve screamed at it.

Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani star in Netflix's The Lovebirds

The romantic comedy is a tricky genre. It is built so heavily on tropes, that keeping it fresh is nearly impossible. It relies completely on how compelling its leads are – which, in turn, is judged by two intangible and indefinable traits: charisma and chemistry. And it occasionally requires you to willingly suspend a little too much disbelief.

The Lovebirds works because of how deftly it takes on all of these challenging genre conventions. It works because Issa Rae and Kumail Najiani are pitch perfect. But mostly, it works because it’s funny. Like honestly, legitimately, sincerely, ha ha funny.

The Lovebirds
86 minutes
Director: Michael Showalter
Writers: Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall
Cast: Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae, Paul Sparks, Anna Camp, Kyle Bornheimer, Catherine Cohen, and Barry Rothbart

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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