SYNOPSIS: A couple (Issa Rae & Kumail Nanjiani) experiences a defining moment in their relationship when they are unintentionally embroiled in a murder mystery. As their journey to clear their names takes them from one extreme – and hilarious – circumstance to the next, they must figure out how they, and their relationship, can survive the night.
Most of us have probably seen enough rom-coms to know that it is the chemistry between the lead actors who make it or break it. ‘The Lovebirds’, premiering on Netflix as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, just reinforces that.
The plot, about a married couple on the verge of calling it quits who become unwittingly embroiled in a murder mystery is ramshackle. The action, whatever little there is, is unexciting. But damn if we aren’t tickled, engaged and even thrilled by the sizzling duo of Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae.
When we first meet Jibran (Nanjiani) and Leilani (Rae), they are two individuals in New Orleans who have decided to extend the morning after their first hook-up with an impromptu breakfast and walk in the park. That meet-cute however lasts just one ‘Four Years Later’ caption, whereupon we find them in a heated argument just before they are supposed to go to a party Jibran is hardly enthused about.
The ping-ponging rhythm of their argument is transfixing, as they move effortlessly from bickering about how Jibran thinks Leilani foolish for wanting to participate with Leilani in ‘The Amazing Race’, to how she thinks he’d rather spend time making his documentary about corruption in the educational system than making out with her, and to her co-worker Keith is jealous of and suspects of having a thing for Leilani.
They take their fighting into the car en route to the dinner party, but are interrupted when a cyclist crashes into their windscreen. In an even stranger turn of events, a man who claims to be a cop jumps into their car, chases down Bicycle Man, and proceeds to run him down and over him. Said cop runs off just before a pair of eyewitnesses stumble upon Jibran and Leilani with the dead cyclist, and in their bewilderment, the lovebirds decide to flee the scene, fearing their skin colour would make them subjects of the authorities’ discrimination in such investigations.
After some confusion and much bickering, our leading couple decide to solve the mystery themselves, using the cyclist’s phone to track down his acquaintances, residence and connection to the murderer. Unfolding over the course of a single night, these encounters would include being tied up in a barn by a pissed-off Senator’s wife (Anna Camp), breaking into an apartment where a group of fratboys run a blackmailing scheme, and crashing a masked sex cult gathering out of ‘Eyes Wide Shut’.
It does get over-the-top, and even lowbrow at times, but the fun is less about the physical shenanigans themselves than watching two skilled performers reinventing the classic Hollywood subgenre of remarriage (where an existing couple on the verge of falling out spend the rest of the movie falling in love with each other all over again). Both Nanjiani and Rae are absolute naturals at such rat-a-tat wordplay, and they elevate what is otherwise a ho-hum script.
We don’t blame you for expecting a witty outing, not least because both veterans of HBO comedies have proven that they are capable of better. Yet there is little doubt Nanjiani and Rae are having fun next to each other, and it is their sheer star power which makes this an enjoyable if ultimately forgettable exercise in screwball comedy.
So like we said at the start, ‘The Lovebirds’ flies because of the charm of its performers, both of whom are reason alone to catch this rom-com/ murder mystery/ action comedy. Amidst the gloom of the pandemic, you can really do a lot worse than this slice of star-inspired lunacy..
Review by Gabriel Chong