The Lovebirds **1/2
One Liner Review:
It’s Date Night meets Game Night, and there are definitely some good laughs here, mainly from Kumail Nanjiani, but the plot is pretty thin.
A pretty clear case of two very talented actors trapped in a routine romantic comedy. This movie feels just like a ton of other movies that came before it, where the two leads are stuck in a mistaken identity / accidental run in with the wrong kind of person, situation. And from there, our protagonists are stuck on the run for the entire movie as they try to solve the murder they got mixed in themselves. If you’re getting Date Night or Game Night vibes, you’re on the right track. The stars here are Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae, to actors who got their big breaks with HBO half hour comedy shows that launched them both to stardom. Now they are both on the rise, and this movie definitely shows off their talent. Nanjiani in particular gets to showcase some natural humor a number of times in this movie. But even with the sporadic funny line or moment every now and agin, the tired plot hangs over this one, and the humorous duo can only do so much to give this movie life and energy.
The Lovebirds is a movie that features two likeable stars and a pretty routine story. The stars are both the products of HBO half hour comedies that launched them to fame and glory. Kumail Nanjiani is one of a number of actors to make it big from the HBO show Silicon Valley, (the other one was TJ Miller, until bad behavior got him practically kicked out of Hollywood.) But Nanjiani took the slow route, whereas Miller took the David Caruso, high-tail it out of there as soon as he started hitting it big, approach. With Nanjiani, he stayed on the show for every season until it’s end, and used that time to build his name at the movies,. He had a breakout film, which was tremendously smart, dramatic, and successful. That movie was The Big Sick. And Issa Rae, his romantic counterpart in this movie, has got the show Insecure, on HBO,. What’s unique about this show is that unlike Silicon Valley, which is an ensemble show, Insecure is a one woman show. Sure, her character has friends and romantic partners, but she is the single protagonist. And both shows have really done a lot for these actors.
For one thing, they have showcased just how funny these two are, They are both stand up comics with natural talent. Both are now, officially, the breakout stars from their respective shows. And both saw the premise for this movie, and who would be in it with them, and jumped on board. Every actor has lousy choices and films under their belt, (and this is by no means a terrible movie, it’s just nothing new,) but these two have to start making some smarter decisions. For Kumail, the Big Sick was fantastic (he wrote that movie with his wife, based on their real life relationship,) but then he did the dopey movie, Uber, with Dave Batista. And for Rae, she has had only had one movie before this, and it was Little, which is a take on the Tom Hanks movie Big, so much so that even it’s title references that film. Some more originality from both of these two would go a long way.
But they do bring whatever they can to The Lovebirds, a movie about two people in a relationship who get trapped in an unusual situation. They get thrown into the middle of a murder. There are ways to do this kind of story creatively. Game Night certainly found a new angle to approach it with. But the Lovebirds is more like Date Night, which is to say it’s about as creative as that movie’s mistaken identity plot line. Here, we get an opening scene of these two first meeting – mainly to give us the “that’s the I want to kiss you face,” line which will be repeated throughout the film. And then we cut to five years later, when they are in a committed relationship with each other, living together, but fighting over every little thing. They literally have an argument over whether they would be good on the reality show “The Amazing Race,” together. The content of the argument is funny, and their bickering is catchy at first, but then it just goes on and on. And it’s both of them going at it with each other, with neither one being the low voice, trying to calm things down.
The arguments continue in the car, to the point where we get about three arguments in a row. Now, we do learn a lot from these arguments, such as the idea that Jibran (Nanjiani,) is a documentary filmmaker who hates reality shows. And Leilani (Rae,) thinks he has just been sitting around for years, not working and not pushing himself to get anything done. Where is his money coming in from then? We’ve seen movies about guys who don’t have jobs before, but usually we get an answer to the money question. In Knocked Up, for example, Seth Rogen’s character was collecting money from a settlement with the post office, after a mail truck ran over his foot. Here, maybe the character has money coming in from whoever is paying him to make the documentary, although if that was true then why would all of this be such an issue for Leilani, who thinks her boyfriend is afraid to take a chance and actually finish his work and put it out there?
The two of them discuss breaking up, and how they need to end their relationship, and that’s when they hit a biker with their car, who seems to come out of nowhere. They get out and check to see if the man is okay, and he doesn’t exactly look so good, bleeding from the head. Yet he gets right back up on his bike and speeds off. Only he leaves his phone. And so Jibran and Leilani pick it up and are debating what to do when a man jumps into their car and tells them he is a cop who needs to take their vehicle. He tells them that the man they just hit is a criminal and that he’s after the biker. And now the three of them go on a car chase, trying to catch their target. This scene is very funny because Jibran and Leilani quickly jump on board the idea of the chase, knowing that if their biker is a criminal, then maybe they aren’t in the wrong for hitting him. Maybe he really did come out of nowhere, and it wasn’t their fault. They talk through the car chase, making comments and giving the “cop” advice about which way to turn and how to cut the biker off.
Only there’s a problem. When they finally catch up to the biker, the man in their car, (who they start referring to as “Moustache,” later on,) doesn’t exactly handcuff and arrest the biker. Instead, he runs over him. Again and again. He keeps backing up or going forward just to run over the guy another time. And watching Jibran and Leilani’s faces is pretty priceless. Moustache leaves their car and runs off. Now the two of them get out and are checking to see that this guy is dead. Which of course he is. Another couple comes around the corner and sees them and calls the police. Which leads to Jibran’s run on the count of three idea, where he doesn’t exactly tell Leilani that he’s about to run. This, like the “I want to kiss you face,” becomes another idea that is repeated throughout the movie.
And now the characters spend the rest of the movie on the run. But they’re not just hiding out from the law, they are also trying to figure out the murder and get to the bottom of it. Isn’t that what always happens in these movies? Nobody wants to watch a movie about a character just hiding out, but watch the character take action and actually do something to prove his or her innocence, and then you have something. This is certainly an overused idea, going all the way back to movies like North By North West, but even still, it is sometimes used to spin into something great, like the movie The Fugitive. If the premise is used for a romantic comedy, however, like what he get here, it usually turns into an average film. There’s just not a whole lot of room to get creative here. Even if the specific situations the characters find themselves involved in are unique, (in Date Night they went to club, and to a meet up in Central Park. Here, in the Lovebirds, they go to an Eyes Wide Shut like exclusive gathering,) it still doesn’t amount too much.
But the character start on their pursuit of solving the murder themselves, afraid to go to the police because they are minorities and believe they will most likely be accused of the murder themselves. They get a call on the biker’s phone from a woman who wants to meet up with them. And, hoping that the woman has never seen what this guy looks like before, Jibran goes and meets her at a bar, outside on the balcony, and ends up leaving with her and Leilani. It turns out that she’s a senator’s wife, (which we only know because she casually gives it away,) and that she and her husband plan on torturing these two until they give up some incriminating photos that the biker must have had. The torture scene in the barn turns out to be kind of funny, with a decision needing to be made between what’s behind the door or grease. All of this is in the trailer, of course. In fact, nearly everything worthwhile about this movie is in the trailer, including that Eyes Wide Shut club they go to later on.
At one point Leilani and Jibran figure out an address that the biker was either going to or was living at. And they break in and hide out in a room down the hallway from a bunch of other bikers who seem to have a collection of photos. That’s when Moustache shows up, and our protagonists find themselves hiding in a closet, just inches away from the killer. From there, they figure that their only hope is to unlock the Biker’s phone. And so they show up to a party they were supposed to be at and “trick,” one of their friends into unlocking the phone for them. I say “tricked,” because they go through a whole long song and dance routine to get this guy to do it, and it’s really not such a big deal for him. But the routine they pull off is pretty funny. In fact, it’s one of the funnier moments in the movie, with Jibran really hamming it up in order to make these people want to see what’s on the phone and then convincing them that he forgot his code.
The unlocking the phone leads them to exclusive gathering with everyone wearing masks. And yes, we do get to see exactly what these people here are into, with a show that they perform on stage. It might have been even funnier if either Jibran or Leilani had been picked for the show (about ten people are picked by a lottery system,) and watched from the back of the line as one person after another disrobed. But instead, the show itself is of little importance and just a means to and end to give these characters more to do before facing the killer. This all leads to the climax, where everything comes together. And at the end of the day, we really do have a pretty routine movie here. The actors are incredibly likable, and they are both extremely funny. They have natural charm and wit and they both bring that to the table here. But with a plot that is practically paint by numbers, there is only so much these two can pull off, and so we are left with a movie that definitely feels like we have seen it before. Because we have. Just not with these two.