The Lovebirds (A Passionless Affair)

Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani in Netflix's The Lovebirds

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Having seen The Big Sick (2017), co-written by Kumail Nanjiani, I couldn’t help but feel a jolt of excitement when I came across his role in The Lovebirds, which he also happened to be the executive producer of. What was initially restless anticipation quickly turned to horror. The large hand of the clock cackled as it remained motionless the entire time, watching me unblinkingly.

The Netflix 2020 romantic comedy, directed by Michael Showalter, features Leilani (Issa Rae) and Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani), whose uncomfortable break-up is interrupted by a biker smashing into their car windshield. Things take a turn for the worse when a cop, referred to as “Moustache” (Paul Sparks), intentionally runs the man over with their vehicle and flees, forcing the couple to put their break-up on hold in order to find the real culprit – and clear their names.

The entire plot of the film, from the moment the characters’ date night is shattered by external horrors, is reminiscent of Shawn Levy’s 2010 Date Night, starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey. In fact, it quickly becomes evident that The Lovebirds‘ driving force is its quest to mimic the charm of the aforementioned comedic duo. Unfortunately, the film’s untimely, rickety humour is built entirely on our society’s parodiable obsession with stereotypes, as well as our oftentimes feigned political correctness. While that would make a potentially interesting watch on its own, the political undertone of The Lovebirds‘ jokes strips its foundations bare, leaving nothing but drywall in place.

Moreover, the film’s unsettling scenes and contrasting, suspense-free pace scream loudly of the story’s failed attempt at blending the exhilarating elements of a thriller with the quaint magnetism of The Big Sick. In this respect, Kumail Nanjiani’s presence behind the scenes is palpable. With the script’s unoriginal fixation on the disillusionment with relationships and restlessly streamed dialogue, the film loses its grip on the audience’s attention – often fading into hollow mumbling that does little to drive the story forward. Mimicing the same story premise as Kyle Newacheck’s 2019 Murder Mystery, the film shows a couple trying to overcome the unexpectedly wild circumstances they find themselves in. The staleness doesn’t stop there. The cult presented in the film, composed solely of upper class society members, draws blood from James DeMonaco’s 2016 slasher film The Purge: Election Year, albeit in a more satirical manner. To drive the knife deeper, the plot twists are barely three-point turns, dissolving into one big Scooby-Doo-style reveal at the end (much like The Plagues of Breslau).

However, the fluctuating level of abstract humour woven into the storyline does have its appeal – at times. Complementing it, we have the two leads’ acting, which breathes some life back into a rather flat plot. Finally, the fact that the couple’s act of breaking up is interrupted right before its climax, only to be stretched to its limits, builds much needed tension. Unfortunately, it’s still not enough to hold the audience’s attention for an hour and a half. Not quite a comedy, not a mystery, and hardly romantic – missable at best.

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