The Lovebirds is mostly an excuse to put Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani in a rom-com, and I’m not mad

Every week new original films debut on Netflix, Hulu and other digital services, often films with a modest budget and limited fanfare. Cinemastream is the series by Vox that highlights the most notable of these premieres, in an ongoing effort to keep interesting and easily accessible new films on your radar.

The lovebirds

The premise: A couple who used to have chemistry is about to break up – until they accidentally get involved in a murder.

What matters: Really, The lovebirds is an excuse to put Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani in the same movie and make each other bounce. And I’m not complaining. The pair play Leilani (Rae) and Jibran (Nanjiani), who have been together for four years but are getting on each other’s nerves. He is interested in removing the possibility of marriage; she is against it. He makes documentaries; she works in advertising and calls documentaries ‘the reality shows that no one is watching’. Does she really think that, or is she just trying to get under his skin? Are the million little things they do annoy each other new, or are they just indications that their relationship is rope-less? It is an age-old question for long-term relationships.

The special long lasting relationship of Leilani and Jibran is on the way to a split when The lovebirds begins. That is, until they drive home from a very unpleasant dinner date and hit a motorcyclist – whom she only looks at wildly and continues. Then an officer (Paul Sparks) orders their car, with them inside, to chase the motorcyclist and mow him down an alley before disappearing. Suddenly it seems that Leilani and Jibran are the killers. And their attempts to clear their name send them on a strange thrilling ride.

Directed by the great Michael Showalter (The Big Sick, Wet Hot American Summer), The lovebirds is a bag with sets, some of which work better than others. (In one piece, Leilani puts on unicorn pajamas bought at a drugstore and then threatens to threaten people, and the visual joke goes a long way; a dinner party is less effective.) It’s a wild adventure through New Orleans, them from homes that owned by shady organized criminal operations that employ brothers to do their dirty work, an encounter with a looming crime boss wearing bacon fat, a dinner party with the couple’s intolerable friends, a very unexpected stint in collecting a Eyes secret society.

You can guess the narrative beats a bit – and of course you can; The lovebirds is a romantic comedy and you know what’s going to happen. But the joy of any numbered genre is to see how it is performed. Rae and Nanjiani are great comedians whose jokes and antics are very entertaining, so even if you know what the end of The lovebirds it is very nice to see them there.

Critical reception: The lovebirds has collected generally favorable reviews from critics. At IGN Kristy Puchko writes that “Michael Showalter and his company are not reinventing the wheel here, but it is a solid wheel.”

How to view it: The lovebirds is streaming on Netflix.

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