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Review: Nanjiani and Rae make “The Lovebirds” laugh-out-loud hysterical

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“The Lovebirds” delivers some much-needed laughter thanks to a hilarious script and the undeniable chemistry between Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

There’s a certain point in movies when on-screen stupidity becomes exhausting.

It happens particularly often in horror movies, as desperate victims decide to hide behind piles of dangerous weapon or actively choose not to call the police. No matter how loudly you shout at your screen, they just won’t listen. But the sheer incompetence isn’t confined just to slashers – it’s present in all genres.

One absurd act is bound to push you over the edge and suddenly you find yourself praying for the lead’s downfall, because, quite honestly, they deserve it if they’re that truly that dumb. But that’s not the case in the “The Lovebirds.”

No matter how many times Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae) act with the least common sense possible, their follies never grow tiresome. Instead, the absurdity drives the film as it hilariously blends action and intrigue into a romantic comedy. After all, it would be a pretty quick movie if the couple simply explained to police how their car was hijacked and used to murder someone.

After a brief delay in its release due to COVID-19, Nanjiani, Rae and Paramount Pictures pivoted from the big screen and struck a deal with Netflix in order to provide some much-needed entertainment at home – and there’s plenty to laugh about here.

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Issa Rae as Leilani and Kumail Nanjiani as Jibran in “The Lovebirds.” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Jibran and Leilani are madly in love – at least that’s how the film’s trailer makes it look. But after reliving the couple’s passionate meet-cute and subsequent honeymoon phase, things flash forward four years and the duo is at each others’ throats. Thanks to constant bickering and differing plans for the future, it’s just not working anymore.

When things finally boil over one day during a heated argument in the car, Jibran momentarily takes his eyes off the road and collides with a biker. The man is clearly startled by the accident, but instead of taking time to check for any injuries, he flees the scene. Not long after, a police officer commandeers the couple’s vehicle – with them in tow – to chase down the man, who he claims is a dangerous criminal. After racing through the streets of New Orleans the officer finally reaches the biker, but rather than arresting him, he opts to once again plow over the man with the car. And again. And again.

Jibran astutely points out, “I don’t think he’s a cop,” after witnessing the mysterious hijacker flee the scene after the biker’s murder. Now, with their vehicle a murder weapon and a dead body lying in its wake, Jibran and Leilani must figure out how to respond, but they don’t have much time. A hipster couple approaches down the alley and quickly puts two and two together, accusing Jibran and Leilani of murdering the man. Rather than stick around and wait for the police to find two minorities and a corpse, the duo makes a break for it choosing a life on the run.

With no one to trust but each other, no matter how hard that may be immediately following their break up, Jibran and Leilani set out to solve the murder on their own. But in order to clear their names they must follow a trail of clues that will have them breaking the law, risking their lives, and maybe even joining a freaky sex cult.

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Issa Rae as Leilani and Kumail Nanjiani as Jibran in “The Lovebirds.” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

“The Lovebirds” marks director Michael Showalter’s second outing with Nanjiani following 2017’s Oscar-nominated “The Big Sick.” While this effort may not be deserving of the same recognition from the Academy, it incorporates the same level of heart and goes even heavier on the hilarity.

There’s no denying how laugh out loud funny this movie is. Despite revealing the general premise in its trailer and teasing some of the bigger moments – like the hijacking or Jibran’s showdown with an angry horse – the funniest moments still land. It’s clear there were more than enough alternate jokes at the ready, and thanks to a bit of trailer editing, there are plenty of surprises left to unveil. As clever as the writing may be, beautifully channeling the essence of 2020 woke and pop culture, the delivery is even more impressive.

The combination of Nanjiani and Rae, two of comedy’s biggest stars, works to perfection. While their relationship is meant to be on the rocks in the film, the duo’s real-life chemistry is off the charts, which leads to some truly incredible banter. Maybe more so than any scripted jokes, Nanjiani and Rae’s ceaseless bickering and seemingly improvised jabs will lead to nonstop giggles.

By no fault of its own, the only drawback to the comedy is the fact that we’re unable to share the nonstop laughs in a packed theater. Alas, laughing at home is better than no laughter at all.

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Kumail Nanjiani as Jibran and Issa Rae as Leilani in “The Lovebirds.” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

While the jokes in “The Lovebirds” may be hysterical, the plot still leaves a bit to be desired. After the initial shock of the biker’s murder, things fall into a fairly formulaic outline where Jibran and Leilani must fight against the odds to clear their names – think “The Fugitive,” but with bumbling millennials making all the wrong choices. On top of that, another by the book story is worked in from the jump, as the spurned lovers are forced to work together to overcome a hardship and possibly rekindle their flame.

Despite retelling stories we’ve seen play out time and time again, by cracking jokes and blending genres so seamlessly “The Lovebirds” finds a way to convince viewers to overlook these tropes. At no point did I ever question what the film’s ultimate outcome would be, but it was so damn charming along the way I don’t think I ever cared if it was predictable. However, there are a few late twists to spice things up just a little bit.

In a time where laughs are often few and far between, “The Lovebirds” delivers in a big way. The film’s pure hilarity and charm, due in large part to the undeniable chemistry of its two leads, proves to be more than enough to allow you to overlook any of its formulaic plot lines.

Star Rating: 4 out of 5

“The Lovebirds” debuts exclusively on Netflix May 22.

Zach Goins View All

Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Charlotte, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.

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