Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani Go on the Run in Screwball Comedy ‘The Lovebirds’
There’s nothing quite like getting inadvertently involved in a murder to get a couple out of a rut. Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani find this out the hard way in “The Lovebirds,” a Netflix comedy that reteams Nanjiani with “The Big Sick” director Michael Showalter. Rae and Nanjiani play Jibran and Leilani, a New Orleans couple whose night out takes a left turn after they accidentally hit a bicyclist.
Jibran and Leilani are first introduced the morning after their first night together, when things are fresh and new and every moment together is blissful. Flash forward to four years later, and the relationship is in crisis. Jibran is annoyed that Leilani, who works in advertising, is chained to her phone, while Leilani is fed up with Jibran, a documentary filmmaker, for his lack of spontaneity. On that fateful night, the pair start fighting while getting ready for a party, and continue bickering once they get into their car. Almost mercifully, they mutually decide to break up en route to the soirée, and right at that moment, Jibran hits the bicyclist. Even more shocking, the injured man is the one to flee the scene, leaving behind his cell. But things really get sticky when a man claiming to be a cop (Paul Sparks) hijacks their car, claiming the bicyclist is a criminal he’s in pursuit of. To their horror, he ends up running over the bicyclist with their vehicle, killing him. After he takes off, Leilani and Jibran are left with the body, and it doesn’t look good.
Watching “The Lovebirds,” one cannot help but think of “Queen & Slim,” last year’s racially-charged drama about an African-American couple who go on the run after killing a racist cop. Although this film is far sillier, Jibran and Leilani find themselves in a similar predicament when they have to make the decision to go to the police or flee. Of course, they decide to go on the run, and the stakes turn out to be life or death, despite the hilarity that ensues when they go searching for answers, using the bicyclist’s phone as their guide. Although Nanjiani is Pakistani and Rae is African-American, race only comes into play in one hilarious scene in which the white woman who initially calls the police on them makes it a point to tell the operator that she’s not racist.
From here on out, the ex-couple find themselves in one wacky situation after another. Showalter and screenwriters Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall find creative ways to torture to them, especially in once scene in which they meet up with a sadistic politician’s wife played by the usually super sweet Anna Camp. As Jibran and Leilani must work together to stay alive, predictably, they find themselves working through their personal issues. As it turns out, following a trail that eventually leads to an exclusive sex cult is enough to put the spark back into a relationship.
All in all, “The Lovebirds” is a fun adventure. Rae and Nanjiani may not have off-the-charts romantic chemistry — they both come off as too type-A — they work well as a comedic pairing. Although some gags play out better than others, at less than 90 minutes, the film is hardly a drag.
“The Lovebirds” begins streaming May 22 on Netflix.