Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Rated R, 87 minutes
Directed by: Michael Showalter
The cinematic subgenre of “one zany night” films hasn’t exactly been fertile ground for innovation and reinvention in quite some time, which is crazy given modern screwball comedies are in dire need of a renaissance. THE LOVEBIRDS, a hijinks-laced romcom about a couple whose rocky relationship is tested when they’re unwittingly dragged into murder and mayhem, sadly serves to further solidify this genre malaise. Director Michael Showalter’s fairly funny feature is unashamedly derivative of DATE NIGHT, which in itself was also derivative of AFTER HOURS. But within its safe, predictable, pre-dictated parameters lies an effervescent, entertaining buoyancy thanks primarily to its two leads. Their chemistry makes the otherwise lackluster material land.
Live-in lovers Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae) have been struggling to connect for some time. Between their jobs, friends and vested outside interests, they’re emotionally at odds, bored and bickering. The intense fire they once held for each other has since fizzled, as best illustrated by the literal tonal shift on Jibran’s line, “You’re unbelievable” – a compliment curdling into condemnation. But when the pair are on the brink of a break-up, disaster strikes.
On the way to a dinner party and at the tail end of an intense argument, Jibran and Leilani accidentally hit a bicycle messenger fleeing from a cop, or at least someone who says he’s a cop. The stranger (played by Barry Pepper doppelganger, Paul Sparks) commandeers their car, with the pair as passengers, and repeatedly runs over the bicyclist, killing him. The crooked cop then bolts, leaving the couple in the lurch, making it appear they’ve committed the dastardly deed. Thinking they have no options to prove their innocence (yes, despite this being set in a tech-reliant era), they nervously leave the crime scene with the mysterious dead guy’s cellphone in their possession. They then set out to make sense of what happened and, in the process, exonerate themselves.
The filmmakers interweave the couple’s introspection regarding their discord rather adeptly and astutely. As the stressful stakes increase, the pair verbalize their own issues (some more superficial and trite than others). They counteract those insecurities with healthy interpersonal actions which spotlight how well they work together – from their elaborate scheme to get help cracking a passcode, to their staggeringly awful interrogation technique, to their exchanges as they witness an EYES WIDE SHUT-esque orgy. And inevitably, as they begin to appreciate each other again, their spark reignites into a flame. With actors like Rae and Nanjiani, who both know precisely where to press on the heart or lay on the laughs, the sweet sentiments genuinely work, getting us to surrender to the narrative’s charms
However, Rae and Nanjiani can’t do all the work. The script by Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall, working from a story by Abrams, Gall and Martin Gero does them no favors during its two exposition dumps and sequences where the comedy crumbles into awkward humor – a tricky thing for even the most skilled writer to pull off. A few sequences drone on far too long, even for this film’s brisk run time. The torture scene and the high-class Sacrarium sex party also don’t yield many laughs, as they’ve been done to death and to better effect in other films. Plus, the commentary on social media – that people live an idealized version of themselves online – isn’t exactly the hot, mind-blowing take this film makes it out to be.
While the film suffers frequently from dead weight, it’s a perfectly jovial jaunt to help pass the time, so long as you don’t expect the shenanigans to soar.
THE LOVEBIRDS is now streaming on Netflix.