Michael Showalter’s follow-up to The Big Sick is both a wonderful showcase for its two stars, the whip-smart Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae, and a disappointing mishmash of comedy and murder mystery. Though we know it was originally intended for theatrical release, the film continues a strange, disquieting trend of so-called “Netflix originals” which feel incomplete from a narrative standpoint.
Their four-year relationship on the skids, Jibran (Nanjiani) and Leilani (Rae) are on the verge of a bad break-up when they’re thrust into the middle of a conspiracy involving one dead bicyclist, a secret cult, and a sketchy self-proclaimed cop with a bushy mustache (Paul Sparks). With police on their tail, potentially marking them for vehicular manslaughter, the bickering couple sneak around New Orleans attempting to solve said mystery and dodge wealthy individuals who want them dead…
The two stars enjoy a funny, rapid-fire chemistry and rapport, portraying two very different people who clearly belong together anyway. They really sell the idea that Jibron and Leilani have been dating for four years. Though it’s ultimately not the point, the central murder-conspiracy proves superfluous. So much time is spent on Jibran and Leilani trying to uncover what’s happened to them, so much of the film hinges on what lays behind the curtain that it’s pretty disappointing once we find out what it is. Corrupt cops and secret societies are often to blame in mixed-genre comedies, and both of these cliches are trotted out to rather diminishing returns.
Rae and Nanjiani are consistently funny, even when the material they’re offered is inconsistent. No matter how forgettable the plot, I’ll always remember The Lovebirds as the movie that solidified actor Paul Sparks in my personal consciousness. As the aforementioned sketchy cop, his affable, ordinary good looks are twisted just enough to evoke the surly stench of a back alley enforcer. His eyes tell a story even if the larger story tells us next to nothing about his character.
The Lovebirds starts out somewhat compelling and riotously funny, only to lose steam quickly in the second half as the murder-conspiracy takes center stage. Perhaps the nimble touch of a Judd Apatow is missing, as Showalter’s comedy is neither funny enough nor romantic enough when it counts to fully recommend. If you must, watch it to witness two comedians at the top of their game in spite of the film around them.