You know how it is. A couple is involved, in some way, in a scheme that goes beyond their heads: a brutal murder, the secret of a congressman, a masked and ritualistic sex cult with masked eyes. Any excuse to change clothes.
How did the couples' truck tires end up permanently embedded in the skull of a humble bicycle messenger? Why is Kumail Nanjiani covered in blood? Who knows! The mystery at the heart of The Lovebirds – Netflix's new comedy mystery, starring Nanjiani as Jibran and Issa Rae as Leilani – is very strange for the couple to go to the police with their story. They inevitably bury themselves in an increasingly deep pile of shit. If only it were better shit.
Often, when comedy and mystery genres are forced to fight for the arm of an entire film, comedy wins. Good mysteries are hard to find, big capers are almost extinct, and even mediocre comedy has a funny way of avoiding all the other genres it plays, as long as we were a little.
The Lovebirds – directed with minimal personality by Michael Showalter and written with minimal intelligence by Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall – aren't really funny, so that's your first problem. Rae and Nanjiani make an effort, taking full advantage of their broad personalities, and the film gives them time to remind us of these personalities without really giving them anything interesting to do.
Except, perhaps, in the beginning. The film begins with the couple's first morning afterwards, a pajama party that goes on uninterruptedly for a second complete date (or a second extended date), which is all cute games, long walks, a montage of getting to know you. Cut to four years later. They are a couple, they are in each other's throats, passive aggression is on the rise and, for some reason, disagree about whether to try to get points in The Amazing Race. We jump from the day when Leilani and Jibran became a "thing" to the day when they decided to give up. He thinks she is vain; she thinks he is a failure.
If only some adventure, some wave of excitement – the kind of danger that can make a couple horny for each other again – were to overcome them. Get on the bike messenger, the scary cult sex, Anna Camp making camp in the south, Paul Sparks terrorizing people with his reckless attitude and shadow at 5 o'clock – you get the idea. The remnants of a polka dot comedy are buried here, somewhere, waiting to be released.
Does the story get off track? It is kind of you to suppose that there were trails to begin with. But it may be more accurate to say that the film is what it is. Lovebirds have the usual hijinks peppered with slices of life updated in the minute: words like "fuckboy" (and the requirement "Did I say that right?"), Scenes in Lyfts (Nanjiani roundabout, which played an Uber) driver named Stu, yes, Stuber). This is a story that practically requires sexual chemistry – but since it doesn't exist, we have the usual rigamarole of jealous insecurity, the sudden realization that an ex-girlfriend is really beautiful, a Katy Perry sings for a long time.
So take your checklists and enjoy, or try. Rae and Nanjiani are charismatic stars whose rise was pleasant to watch – especially Rae, whose rapid advance from YouTube to the Netflix screen is impressive. None of them are at their best. When a horse kicked one of our heroes in the middle of the movie, I became an advocate for the horse. When the thug called the couple extremely annoying – even though they are being held at gunpoint, they can't stop fighting – I attached a "Vote for the thug" lapel to my shirt. It's not a good comedy, but what can you do? At Netflix, we vote with our views: it's an algorithmic democracy. Movies like The Lovebirds are what we seem to want. So this is what we get.
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