Entertainment

Netflix's 'The Lovebirds' Is a High-Stakes Rom-Com That's Actually Funny

Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani make the movie worth watching.

the lovebirds
Netflix

The first moments of Netflix's The Lovebirds are straight out of the rom-com playbook. Jibron (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae) are on a first date that bleeds into a walk in the park that bleeds into day drinking that bleeds into a public makeout. But then the action shifts to four years later and it's clear this couple is no longer in a state of bliss: That's when it gets very funny.

A comedy -- be that buddy or romantic, and The Lovebirds is sort of both -- is only as good as its leads. The genre is a chemistry game, and luckily both Rae and Nanjiani have it in spades. On its script alone, the movie wouldn't be much to crow about. It's a zany, "date night gone wild" narrative with some major holes as it chugs along to its inevitable conclusion. But watching Nanjiani and Rae riff off one another is worth the price of admission -- at least, it would be if there were a price of admission. The Lovebirds was supposed to be released in theaters after a premiere at SXSW, but then coronavirus happened and the film got scooped up by Netflix.

lovebirds
Netflix

The movie, directed by Michael Showalter, doesn't take long to swerve into the ridiculous. New Orleans-based Jibron and Leliani are on the way to a friend's party when an argument about how well they would do in The Amazing Race turns into a breakup. And then they hit a bike messenger with their car, who gets up and flees the scene. That wouldn't be so bad, except for the fact that their car is then hijacked by a man claiming to be a cop (Paul Sparks), who proceeds to chase down the bike guy, eventually killing him. Afraid to call the cops and assuming they would be wrongly profiled, Leilani and Jibron go on the lam, hoping to solve the murder themselves before they are apprehended, and are drawn into a web of intrigue involving senators and frat boys. Of course, along the way they find out that they are a good team after all. (Which obviously we, the audience, knew all along.) 

The high-stakes rom com is nothing new, and when it comes to the twists and turns of the mystery, The Lovebirds pales in comparison to a movie like Game Night where the jokes are woven into the mechanics of the plot. But you don't really mind all that much when it's such a pleasure to watch the two leads bicker and flirt. Nanjiani spits out jokes that feel like bits he's been sitting on, like his run on oversized milkshakes. 

Showalter is a director who has been notedly fascinated by the rom com as a piece of art. He made two films that deliberately skewer tropes, The Baxter and They Came Together, before teaming with Nanjiani for The Big Sick, a straightforward entry that helped revive the genre. And while Showalter, best known for his work with The State and in Wet Hot American Summer, is great when he's filming two people bonding, he flails in the action sequences. 

You'll finish The Lovebirds with a lot of questions, including, "Wait, so what was the deal with that sex cult?" But in the end they won't really matter. After all, you'll probably just have been delighted to spend some time with Nanjiani and Rae and their Tracy and Hepburn-level banter.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.