The Lovebirds (2020) Review)
A MIDDLING PROJECT THAT’S
BETTER ON PAPER
A directing career that hasn’t seeing massive hit in quite some time, film director Michael Showalter spent the past couple of years in rather middling projects as a writer, producer, and actor. However, Showalter struck a unique opportunity when he directed The Big Sick, a romantic comedy film, in 2017. The film, which starred Kumail Nanjiani, Holly Hunter, Zoe Kazan, and Ray Romano, is loosely based on the real-life romance Nanjiani and his wife (Emily V. Gordon) as it follows an interethnic couple who must deal with cultural differences after one becomes ill. Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, The Big Sick became one of the most acclaimed films of 2017; receiving praise from both critics and moviegoers alike as well as garnished several awards / nominations, including an Academy Award nod for Best Original Screenplay. Additionally, The Big Sick grossed $56 million at the box office revenue against its $5 million production budget, becoming one of the highest grossing independent films of 2017. Now, three years later, director Michael Showalter (along with Paramount Pictures / Netflix) release his next film project with the movie The Love Birds. Does the film find its rhythm of rom-com / murder mystery aspects or does it squander its potential with a messy execution?
After falling in love with each other for four years, Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae) are struggling to getting along with each other, preying on each other’s nerves as they seek to define their once vital relationship they had. As emotions run high and the very moment of their break-up, Jibran and Leilani hit a bicyclist with their car, only to watch the stranger be murdered by dangerous man known only by the name Mustache (Paul Sparks). Fleeing the crime scene after being mistakenly identified as the killers of the man, the couple tries to make sense of their sticky situation, left with the dead man’s cell phone a few clues to understand what the conflict was about. Setting out into the night clear their names and figure out any motivations of what they stumbled upon, Jibran and Leilani go through all sorts of trouble with strangers connected to what appears to be a case of blackmail involving a man of power and influence and the shadowy organization he’s a part of. Along the way, the couple find their love slowly being rekindled through extreme measure, learning to communicate like they used to as they follow the clues to solve what is truly going on.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I have to say that I really didn’t get a chance to see The Big Sick until a few months ago. When it was first released in 2017, I remember hearing / reading a lot praise about the project, but I didn’t immediately pay it that much attention as, while I did see the film’s movie trailer, I wasn’t completely enticed by it. However, I finally had a chance to see The Big Sick at the end of 2019 and, while I didn’t do a review for it (though I think I should), I did enjoy the film as it a great independent style movie with a meaningful story of love and diversity and some great acting from Nanjiani and Romano. Thus, director Michael Showalter had a good respectable film under his belt, one that prove to be quite effective in the 2017 year.
This brings me back to talking about the 2020 film The Lovebirds of which this review post is about. I didn’t hear much about this movie when it was first announced (on the various movie website / blogs that I follow), but when the studio released the movie trailer for the film…. I became quite aware of it. How so? Well, almost every time I went to the movies I would see the Lovebirds trailer during the “coming soon” preview. So, the feature’s preview was practically ingrained into my cinematic movie memory…. sort of speak. Judging from the trailer, the movie looked to be quite funny. Yes, it looked a bit of familiar narrative, but the movie showed promised. Thus, I was kind of interested in seeing the movie when it was to be released in theaters in April 2020. However, due to the whole COVID-19 pandemic, The Lovebirds was one of the films that was affected by the closing of movie theaters and the juggling around of releases. During late-March, it was announced that Paramount Pictures (the studio behind the film) had sold off The Lovebirds to Netflix, with the popular online streaming service setting a date to release the feature on May 22nd, 2020. So….while I didn’t intentionally watch it when it was released, I finally sat down and watched The Lovebirds on Netflix and give “my two cents” on the movie. And what did I think of it? Well, it was okay-ish…to be honest. While the two main acting talents are fine and the idea of feature is there, The Lovebirds is rather a forgetful film that never rises to occasion; sticking in a middling rut of many of his ideas. It’s not a horrible film, but neither is it a memorable one.
The Lovebirds is directed by Michael Showalter, whose previously directed The Big Sick (as mentioned above) as well as other films like Hello, My Name is Doris and The Baxter. With his career mostly prominently in writing / script handling room like Stella and Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, Showalter certainly has knack for comedy routines and angst, which makes a suitable director in helming a project like The Lovebirds; approaching the film with a sense of character-based performances from its cast as well as keeping the feature light on its feet with its comedy humor and in its action / suspense moments. The failing relationship of Jibran and Leilani definitely works as an interesting catalyst starting point for the Showalter spring off of, with the following events presenting a sort of zany misadventure sequence one after the other. In terms of production / presentation, The Lovebirds meets the industry standards of similar feature films. Its one of those movies that felt appropriately designed and created throughout its various background / setting aspects and nuances (i.e. locations, set designs, costumes, hair / makeup, etc.), but nothing truly stand out. However, that’s not saying that the film’s production was bad or anything like that…it just looks good and flows together; a sort of counterbalance “even keel” kind of thing. Thus, I didn’t hate nor I loved it…it was just there. The same can be said for the movie’s score (something that I usually mention in my reviews) as it feels very “in-line” with the film’s narrative, but nothing about it really stands out.
Unfortunately, The Lovebirds doesn’t quite stick its mark in terms of what it wants to be (again, a mash up of a romantic comedy and a murder mystery) as the movie has some pretty glaring criticisms that left me disappointed in the film’s final product. How so? Well, as I said, the blending of the two storytelling elements is quite clear and Showalter aims for a humorous madcap entertainment ride, with Jibran and Leilani rushing around town and through the night to clear their names and solve the case. It’s definitely a good idea, but the end result isn’t that quite humorous nor clever enough to be a wholesome endeavor. There’s plenty to do in the movie for the characters to play around with, but Showalter just simply makes a lot of it rather lackadaisical from start to finish. Nothing about the film is quite clever nor uproariously “laugh out loud” type moments that cast a memorable status on the feature, which makes The Lovebirds rather dull. Thus, Showalter, despite his efforts, never makes the film truly funny as a rom-com nor as clever as murder mystery, which makes the whole blending of the two rather “meh”. There are parts that do work, but not enough.
Another problem with the film is that The Lovebirds feels long….much longer that what it really is. With a runtime of only 86 minutes long, the film itself is relatively short (on par with most animated feature films), but the project kind of feels bloated in some ways that makes the film much longer that was it is. As mentioned above, there’s a lot to unpack in this movie (narrative-wise) and Showalter seems to just meander through these plot points in a rather bland way, with the movie’s pacing taking a backseat and offering up moments that banal and / or half-baked. Parts of this also lies within the movie’s script, which was penned by Aaron Abrams, Brendan Gall, and Martin Gero, as the narrative (along with all the jokes and gags that the film throughs into the mix) is rather flat. It definitely get what they deemed to be funny and how it could’ve worked on paper, but the practical issues with the movie is rather clunky exposition and dialogue characters lines that don’t quite work as intended. This also plays a fact in the movie’s story, which (again…is good on paper), but feels rather clunky in its execution and doesn’t really on anywhere. As a whole, the movie kind of feels half-baked and struggles to find the proper balance of wanting it is and what it wants to be; subjecting us (the viewers) to story that stumbles through a weak storyline and jumbled together with a few awkward moments and a bland taste of comedy that never truly gets the belly laughs that it aims for.
The cast in The Lovebirds has a few recognizable acting talents on the project and, while most of them have given respectable performances in their past works, their efforts in the film are rather clunky and forgetful. That’s not saying its of lack of trying and some of them do elevate their rather flat / generic characters, but one can tell how hard it is for them to play with such limited material. A prime candidate for this can be found in the film’s two main protagonist characters of Jibran and Leilani, who are played by actor Kumail Nanjiani and actress Issa Rae. Nanjiani, known for his roles The Big Sick, Stuber, and Men in Black: International, has certainly made a name for himself over the past few years; transitioning from supporting character actor to actor in a lead role and does so again in The Lovebirds. He certainly gets the character down and definitely works a colorful iteration to Jibran in a way that’s both amusing and humorous right from the get-go. Similarly, Rae, known for her roles in Insecure, Little, and The Hate U Give, has come into her own of late as known actress and does shine in the movie as Leilani. Together, both Nanjiani and Rae work good together because they have a great rapport with their bickering “back and forth” banter for their characters, which ultimately does work in the feature’s benefit. However, there characters and a lot of the film’s dialogue moments is rather flat and clunky. Luckily, both acting talents help elevate these rather generic caricatures protagonists, but it isn’t a full measure and one can clearly see that the two of them struggle to find ground within their characters in a few spots.
Likewise, actor Paul Sparks (House of Cards and Castle Rock) “looks” the part of The Lovebirds’s main antagonist of the undisclosed character name of “Mustache”, but the character himself is rather straightforward and uninteresting. Just a hitman baddie and nothing more, which is disappointing. The rest of the cast, including actress Anna Camp (True Blood and Pitch Perfect) as Edie, actor Kyle Bornheimer (She’s Out of Your League and Onward) as Brett, actor Mahdi Cocci (Bruh and Sistas) as Keith, and actor Nicholas X. Parsons (Power of Air and Pain & Gain) as Bicyclist, are relegated to, more or less, supportive roles. Most of these acting talents I do like, but their respective character roles in the movie are rather forgetful as they do with what they can with material given to them, which isn’t much.
As one couple is on the verge of ending their relationship, a murder mystery reunites them as Jibran and Leilani figure out what situation they just landed themselves in with the film The Lovebirds. Director Michael Showalter latest film mashes together the slapstick comedy of rom-com features and blends it with a secretive murder mystery aspect; producing a film that’s bountiful within its jokes and gags as well as its core meanings of a relationship between two people. Unfortunately, the movie itself has a hard time rising to the occasion as it struggles to find a balanced medium (messy plot, thematic tones, pacing, and “hit or miss” comedy angst)….even if its lead cast does do a pretty good job in their respective roles. To me, the movie was mediocre okay-ish. It had its moments, but it was a bit off-putting and didn’t feel like it fully capitalize on the potential that the initial had for its premise. Thus, my recommendation for the movie is a vaguely “iffy choice” as some people might like it a little bit better than me, while others will follow my lead of not particularly caring for it. It’s a “one and down” type of viewing experience…. if you know what I mean. However, The Lovebirds kind of me reminds of a lot of Netflix original content of its movies and TV series as it generates plenty of hype, but just ends up being somewhere middling form of creativity and entertainment. In short, the movie is better on paper than its execution and (in turn) a throwaway / forgettable endeavor.
3.0 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice)
Released On: May 22nd, 2020
Reviewed On: June 13th, 2020
The Lovebirds is 86 minutes and is rated R for sexual content, language throughout, and some violence