The Lovebirds is in a category with movies like Mystery Date and Date Night where a romantic couple becomes entangled in some sort of life-or-death crime caper. Pictures of this sort depend on the chemistry between the leads because the plots, by nature, are fairly outlandish. If we don't care about the characters, we simply won't suspend our disbelief. In this case, two very appealing actors with distinct comedic voices blend together beautifully, leading to a preposterous, yet often hilarious escapade through New Orleans.
Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani are Leilani and Jibran. A short prologue shows them in the earliest stage of their relationship, when they both feel magic happening. Four years later, they're barely holding on. The two fight about everything – restaurants, careers, whether they could win The Amazing Race, and so on. On their way to a dinner party with friends, they decide the time has come to call it quits.
At that exact moment, something shocking happens. A bicycle rider slams into their car. Although clearly injured, he takes off. A guy claiming to be a cop then commandeers the car, chases the rider, and runs him over multiple times. Leilani and Jibran are left looking like killers when the cop makes a hasty retreat. In a ballsy piece of social commentary, they decide not to go to the police because they're people of color and assume the murder will be pinned on them no matter what. Instead, they opt to follow a clue provided by the bicyclist's cell phone in order to find the culprit and clear their names. The trail leads to several places, the most significant of which is to an encounter with a political wife (Anna Camp) with a fondness for bizarre forms of torture.
Movies featuring an incessantly bickering couple can grow tiresome. Who wants to hear people fighting for ninety minutes? The Lovebirds avoids that trap. For starters, the dialogue is genuinely funny. More importantly, Rae and Nanjiani convince us that Leilani and Jibran love each other, even if they think they don't anymore. Here's an example. The two are trying to get into the dead guy's apartment building. Leilani pulls on the door, only to find it's locked. Then Jibran does it. “What, did you think it was one of those men-only doors?” she asks. We can tell from the way Leilani makes the jab that, were they not quarreling, she might have said the exact same thing, and Jibran probably would have laughed at the joke. Moments like this are throughout the picture, reminding us that the relationship isn't irreparably damaged, it has just hit a rough patch.
Strong casting glues everything together. Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani have original comedic styles that mesh well. Occasionally in these action rom-coms, you can feel the actors working competitively, with each trying to be the one who's funnier. Not here. The leads work cooperatively, setting one another up for jokes and generating a rapport that's authentic. Even if implausible, many of the situations these characters find themselves in are humorous. Sharp interplay among the stars creates abundant laughter during those sequences.
Movies of this type always paint themselves into a corner at the end. The tone becomes more serious as the heroes face off against the villain and get into the most extreme danger. That happens in The Lovebirds, too. I laughed so hard and so frequently, though, that I didn't care. Thanks to superb performances from Rae and Nanjiani, a witty screenplay by Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall, and sharp direction from Michael Showalter (The Big Sick), the film is eighty-six minutes of silly, romantic fun.
out of four
The Lovebirds is rated R for sexual content, language throughout and some violence. The running time is 1 hour and 26 minutes.