With Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae recently making names for themselves, the two seemed like obvious choices to co-star in a feature film. After all, Nanjaini wrote 2017's The Big Sick, an Oscar-nominated romance comedy based on his real-life courtship with his wife (and co-writer), Emily V. Gordon, was a huge hit as far as independent films go. While Rae created, wrote and stars in HBO's Insecure, which has received plenty of critical acclaim (Rae is a two-time Golden Globe nominee) to accompany a slew of adoring fans. The Lovebirds, directed by The Big Sick's Michael Showalter and co-written by Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall, is a couples action-comedy that combines 2010's Date Night with 2008's Pineapple Express, but with much less weed.

Rae and Nanjiani play Leilani and Jibran, a couple who, despite what the title implies, are on the skids. The film's prologue shows the two when they began dating, wide-eyed and fully infatuated with each other and ready jump into their relationship feet first. Fast forward to present day, the pair are dissatisfied with one another and this argue about everything. It gets to the point where they break up while on the way to a party.

But something expected and defining happens – they witness a murder in which the killer (Paul Sparks, House of Cards) used their car, with them inside, to run over the victim. Leilani and Jibran go on the run when another pair of witnesses believes that the now ex-couple killed the “random” bicyclist. While on the run, Leilani and Jibran decide to find the killer in an effort to clear their names.

All of that is covered in the trailer as Paramount hoped that would be the most appealing aspect of the story. It's obviously played for laughs, so leaning into that makes sense, but its success relies heavily on Rae and Nanjiani's chemistry. And they work well together; they are able to make The Lovebirds watchable fare since it uses some familiar tropes and its humor isn't A+ level.

Rae and Nanjiani are basically the only two reasons to watch The Lovebirds (to be fair, this vehicle was set up to capitalize solely on their talents, but still). Although the laughs aren't at the highest level, the pair are responsible for nearly all of them and they work off each other with ease. It was easy to believe their couple issues and they successfully play it off as funny rather than sad. Having established that, they dip back in that well repeatedly to provide relationship (and standard) jokes throughout the entire 87-minute running time.

Of course, because they're on the run for murder, the stress from that situation allows Leilani and Jibran to re-evaluate their relationship and truly realize what they mean to each other. It's an obvious ploy to draw in romantic viewers, but nonetheless it's effective since it's the tough times, not the good times, which test a couple's resilience.

What's interesting to note is the notion that Rae and Nanjiani don't seem to be calling it in. Maybe it's because they're relative newcomers to filmmaking; maybe they believed in the script. Heck, maybe they just had a blast making this together. But their effort shows and The Lovebirds would've been completely forgettable without it.

Originally scheduled to be theatrically released on April 3, 2020, Paramount scrapped it because of the pandemic. Instead, they sold The Lovebirds to Netflix and they, in turn, released it on May 22, 2020.

This feature feels more like a home release – it's more at home at home, if you will.

In all, this is a formulaic film that feels fresh because of its diverse casting and the high level of talent that Rae and Nanjiani provide. You won't be wasting your time checking this out, but don't expect too much from it, either.

3 stars out of 5


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