“The Lovebirds,” a new comedy starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae debuting on Netflix this week, belongs to a very specific sub-genre of rom com. Like “Date Night” and “Game Night” it’s the story of a rocky romance rescued by one wild night on the town.
Nanjiani and Rae are Jibran and Leilani, a couple we meet on their first date. It’s all sunshine and roses (and some day-drinking) until we cut to four years later. The genial tone of the first date is gone, replaced by endless bickering about how he can’t make up his mind about which restaurant to go to and even “The Amazing Race,” a show he’s never seen. “I don’t need to get hit by a truck to know it would suck,” he says.
On the drive to a dinner party, things come to a head. “I feel like I’m one page of the book,” he says, “but you’re reading a magazine.“ Just as a petty spat leads them to the brink of a break-up they unwittingly become involved in a crime when their car is commandeered by someone claiming to be a cop (Paul Sparks) and then used to brutally run over and kill a bicycle courier.
Afraid the police won’t believe their version of events, the couple leave the scene of the crime, determined to take matters into their own hands and figure out who the bad guy is. Plunged into world that makes their relationship woes look tame by comparison, the couple uncover clues and rekindle their romance. “This is like ‘The Amazing Race,’” she says, “except with dead people.”
“The Lovebirds” is a rom com, or maybe it’s better to call it a rom crime? Either way, it mixes affection, funnies and felonies in one package that rests solely on the shoulders of its two charismatic stars. Their Fred and Ethel style bickering, which supplies much of the film’s enjoyment, doesn’t feel mean-spirited or contrived. Just the banter between two people who may have forgotten what they liked about one another to begin with. Nanjiani and Rae bring the comedic chops to make us laugh and the magnetism to keep us onside when the action ramps up and grows more and more extreme. “We couldn’t figure out our relationship,” he says. “Do you think we can figure out a murder?”
“The Lovebirds” works best when it has an edge, less so (and you knew this was coming) when romance is reborn. The (NOT A SPOILER! IT MAY HAVE VIOLENCE BUT IT IS STILL A ROM COM) conventional ending is a predictable but happy way to put a bow on the story.