The Lovebirds review: from the cinema to Netflix instead

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Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae headline The Lovebirds, that’s landed on Netflix rather than getting a cinema release – and here’s our review.

Is ‘action rom com’ a genre?  If it wasn’t, it is now, with the arrival on Netflix of The Lovebirds.  On paper, it’s a mouth-watering prospect. Director Michael Showalter and Kumail Nanjiani are reunited, after turning the rom-com convention on its head to such delicious effect three years ago in The Big Sick. All the ingredients are there. Or so it would seem.

In truth, they’re not. Their previous collaboration was based on the true story of Nanjiani and his wife, Emily Gordon, with the couple writing the script. This time round, Aaron Abrams is behind the screenplay so that personal element is reduced to Nanjiani and co-star Issa Rae signing up as executive producers. And sadly, this attempt to bring the screwball comedy into the 2020s is neither screwy nor a ball.

At the centre of the action is the inevitably fast talking, bickering couple, this time Jibran (Nanjiani) and Leilani (Rae) who, after four years together, are about to call it a day. But at the very moment of making the decision, they crash their car into a cyclist. The cop pursuing him hijacks their car with them still inside and, once he’s tracked down the rider, runs him over. Repeatedly.

Convinced they’ll be accused of the murder, the pair go on the run to find the killer.

Right then: thank goodness for the terrific Nanjiani and Rae. They’re by far and away the film’s biggest assets, with a sparkling chemistry that saves the production time again from sinking into the doldrums. Even if the killer is on the button when he tells them they’re “a nice but annoying couple”, their charm and pizzazz are irresistible and you’re happy to go along with them for the ride – as long as they’re there.

They are, of course, chalk ‘n’ cheese – she’s practical and pragmatic, he wimps out whenever possible (clearly this is Nanjiani with his pre-Eternals physique) – but, despite their relationship having reached a crisis, it’s very obvious how things will pan out.

They’re hardly ever off the screen, thankfully, standing head and shoulders above the rest of the cast and leaving them trailing in their wake, while frequently giving the script the shot in the arm it needs. It occasionally fizzes without their help, but you can count those occasions on the fingers of one hand and it isn’t enough.

Aside from the two leads, this is a very ordinary comedy with some routine action and an unnecessarily convoluted storyline. While the Nanjiani name will pull in Netflix viewers, the streaming service’s comedy track record only includes a handful of genuine gems – Always Be My Maybe and Dolemite Is My Name, for instance.

The rest are just fair-to-middling. Like The Lovebirds.


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