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Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani make a winning pair in Netflix’s action-comedy The Lovebirds - The A.V. Club
The stars of this NOLA-set action comedy shine, even when the story around them doesn't.
Its been almost a decade since Kumail Nanjiani was hosting stand-up shows in the back of Meltdown Comics and Issa Rae was an Awkward Black Girl trying to make the leap from YouTube to TV. The talent and charisma that got both of them noticed has since taken them far, but were still rooting for themparticularly when it comes to their new project, The Lovebirds. Thats due in large part to Nanjiani and Raes chemistry in the film, which is so winning that you cant help but hope that their characters can work everything out. But the movie itself is also an underdog: Originally set to premiere at this years SXSW, it was one of the first 2020 titles to see its release plans wiped out by the COVID-19 crisis. Now safely nestled in at Netflix, the film is going straight to streaming, its wings clipped but not broken. The Lovebirds Director Michael Showalter Cast Kumail Nanjiani, Issa Rae, Paul Sparks, Anna Camp Availability Netflix May 22 In terms of plot, The Lovebirds is nothing new. In fact, its simply the latest in a recent series of films, like Date Night and Game Night and Keeping Up With The Joneses, about a couple coincidentally caught up in wacky but legitimately dangerous criminal activity. In this case, its hipster creatives Jibran (Nanjiani) and Leilani (Rae) who get pulled into a blackmail ring after they accidentally run over a cyclist with their car in the midst of a relationship-ending fight. Add a New Orleans location that isnt especially necessary to the story and a dinner party full of judgmental friends (and one hunky coworker), and the Mad Libs card is pretty much filled out. The dialogue is the real star herethat, and the chemistry between the leads, of course. The Big Sick director Michael Showalter re-teams with Nanjiani for the filmno surprise given that their last project together was nominated for an Oscar. He adds showy little touches here and there, like the moment where we pause for a dramatic tableau of a dozen or so cops pointing their guns at Rae and Nanjiani in an empty theater. Some of this panache is used for comedy, as in the scene where Nanjiani and an unhinged assassin, on opposite ends of an apartment, keep just barely ducking out of each others line of sight. But, for the most part, Showalter lets his stars take center stage with their rapid-fire bickering. The dynamic between this screwball couple is half affectionate and half exasperated, and there are enough funny lines sprinkled throughouta personal favorite: documentaries are just reality shows no one watchesto keep the laughs coming. But while The Lovebirds are sparkling conversationalists, as the plot gets more convoluted, the champagne starts to go flat. This becomes an issue later on, when the film wraps up its primary conflict early. That leads to a sluggish last half hour, which is a lot for a movie that clocks in at just under 90 minutes. Theres one downside of casting actors so charming youd watch them order a pizza: Sometimes they outshine the story around them.