Despite the efforts of its leads, Michael Showater's follow-up to The Big Sick falls victim to a slapdash story and familiar beats
Back in 2017, Michael Showalter, working from a script by writer-actor Kumail Nanjiani and partner Emily V. Gordon, delivered a romantic comedy that single-handedly brought life back to an ailing genre: smart, funny, emotionally resonant, The Big Sick felt like the long-awaited departure from the tired, trope-reliant rom-coms of the mid 2000s, ushering in a new era of witty, relatable millennial equivalents.
Even if the dream of another golden age of rom-coms failed to materialise, how strange that Showalter’s follow-up, The Lovebirds, feels like a step backwards in every way. He has re-teamed with Kumail Nanjiani, though this time they’re working from a script by Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall, resulting in a mildly diverting but inarguably slapdash slice of action-comedy that never rises above the generic – a cross between Manhattan Murder Mystery and Game Night, riffing heavily on Eyes Wide Shut. Even its title seems plucked arbitrary, as though the film was at one point titled “Untitled Murder-Mystery Film.” You have to ask: where was Nanjiani for the rewrite?
Jibran (Nanjiana) and Leilani (Issae Rae) are a couple on the brink. Once soul mates, their four-year-long relationship has become a breeding ground for spiteful digs and petty arguments. En route to a friend’s party, they finally decide to break up – only for their car to collide with a bicyclist. Before long, their vehicle has been hi-jacked by a violent hitman, who murders the bicyclist and frames them as the killers. The only way out, apparently, is to solve the murder before the cops do, thus proving their innocence. Inevitably, this leads them into a far larger conspiracy, but none of it feels plausible, even in a wacky comedy like this.
This is a very shouty film, where basically every line is yelled and every conversation is delivered in squawky, back-and-forth exchanges, punctuated with hit-and-miss pop cultural references. There is a breeziness to the whole affair as it goes from one scene to the next, yet it feels so lightweight, disposable and contrived – you basically stop thinking about The Lovebirds before it’s even over. Characters come and go with little consequence, whilst people are shot and maimed in a way that undermines the light-hearted tone. At the halfway point it starts to feel like a slog; we know what’s going to happen.
Nanjiani and Rae do possess enough screwball chemistry to stop The Lovebirds from sinking entirely, and the film works as a nice showcase of their talents. But you sit and wish them into better material. By the time we end up in yet another meaningless parody of Eyes Wide Shut you at least expect Showalter to try and subvert all these familiar elements, yet the script never bothers to connect the dots in a clever or interesting way. The entire gist seems to be: “Hey, look at this film we’re referencing!”
Some will be sure to appreciate the lightweight antics at a time when concentration and motivation are difficult to conjure for long periods of time. I personally found it hard to fall for The Lovebirds.
The Lovebirds is now streaming on Netflix.Where to watch