The Lovebirds

3 mins read

How much you enjoy Netflix’s The Lovebirds, a subpar exercise in clowning starring a pair of first-class comedians more talented than their material, will depend on how well you can discard the labored sitcom around them and appreciate laugh-out-loud riffing of stars Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani, dragging instantly forgettable material up to something resembling entertainment.

As a bickering New Orleans couple on life support, their crumbling relationship gets a shot in the arm when they find themselves in one of those wrong place/wrong time predicaments, being chased by killers, ensnared in a sex cult and donning umpteen costume changes over the course of a long night, an odyssey part Scorsese’s After Hours and part Game Night. The Lovebirds isn’t up to the quality of either, but you get the idea.

Director Michael Showalter, a deft comedian himself who knows his way around a punchline (and who made 2017’s The Big Sick with Nanjiani), keeps things moving at a rapid clip and seeing Rae and Nanjani volley jokes back and forth is a treat. Doing a lot with a little, the pair meets cute in a very funny opener of a one-night-stand turned courtship. Flash forward a few years and they’re bickering like long-marrieds. The insults and disconnects come fast and furious—sex life, professional lives, jealousies over colleagues and then zingers about being “shallow” and “a failure” drop the hammer: it’s over.

The intrigue begins after their car is appropriated by mysterious figure who claims he’s a cop and runs down the bicyclist they’ve hit during their argument. When witnesses ID them and call police, they’re worried they will be fingered for the murder and, on-the-run, decide to track down the culprit, providing the picture a rambling, loose series of set-pieces and hijinks.

Rae and Nanjiani are comedy veterans of movies and cable television, and Rae pulled off an impressive dramatic stretch in this year’s The Photograph. Nanjiani, so good in his self-reflexive The Big Sick (and stuck in the unfortunate buddy misfire Stuber), brings rapid fire wit to his punch lines. But as talented as they are, The Lovebirds is at the bottom of their accomplishments.

Nonetheless, there are big laughs in the stars’ clear improvisational hysteria trying to extricate themselves from all manner of dangers, including an absolutely riotous Eyes Wide Shut nod to a sex cabal gone wrong and a police interrogation that’s terrifically funny, as well as a final showdown with the culprit where the pair attempts to say the right thing, which comes out oh-so-wrong. The ending is telegraphed from the beginning, naturally, but the charm of the stars carries the day. Their movie may be a chore, but their chemistry is fun.

2 1/2 stars.

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