Review: Netflix comedy The Lovebirds is a cheerful movie mash-up

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THE LOVEBIRDS (Michael Showalter). 87 minutes. Streaming on Netflix Canada Friday (May 22). Rating: NNNN


Some couples go out and immediately stumble across a cool new coffee shop, or see a band at a bar that becomes their favourite memory. Some couples are lucky that way. The universe likes them.

The Lovebirds is not about one of those couples.

Not that Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae) aren’t interesting people. He makes documentaries, and she works in marketing. They live in New Orleans, they’re pretty cool, and they get each other. Or at least they used to. After four years together and one frustrated argument too many, they’ve decided it’s over.

But the universe has other plans. Literally three seconds after they break up, our heroes find themselves unwittingly involved in a murder – and go on the run together to find the killer and prove their innocence. Except that neither of them has the slightest idea how to do that, because why the hell would they?

Cheerfully mashing up the Steve Carell-Tina Fey misfire Date Night with the absurd Jason Bateman-Rachel McAdams treasure Game Night, screenwriters Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall – who wrote and produced The Go-Getters, another film about two people forced to bicker their way through a seemingly insurmountable challenge – provide an emotional intelligence the former was lacking and a slightly more realistic environment the latter didn’t require.

The plotting is elaborate but credible – a Black woman and a Pakistani man would have good reason not to trust the police to hear their side of the story, after all – and if director Michael Showalter seems a little uncomfortable with the film’s more action-y beats, that sort of works in The Lovebirds’ favour: Jibran and Leilani are uncomfortable with them too.

And as the adventure rolls on, and our heroes find themselves facing one increasingly preposterous challenge after another – among them a pan full of sizzling bacon grease, an apartment building that’s surprisingly difficult to break into and a secret society whose founders clearly got more out of Stanley Kubrick Eyes Wide Shut than I did – Nanjiani and Rae prove to be a great pairing for this sort of low-stakes silliness.

The actors show us how Jibran and Leilani’s squabbling is grounded in exasperation and hurt, while still finding little ways to suggest their mutual spark hasn’t died out entirely. There’s a running gag about Jibran being a terrible communicator, but the truth is that Leilani understands him more clearly than either of them is willing to admit – and he understands her right back.

This is a love story, after all. The obstacles are just bigger – and weirder – than usual.

@normwilner

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A life-long Torontonian, Norman became the senior film writer for NOW in early 2008. Previously he had reviewed films for Metro newspapers across Canada and covered every video format imaginable (yes, even Beta).

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May 20, 2020

7:20 PM