Romantic comedies have long been one of my least favorite film genres due mostly to the formula containing some of the most overused clichés in the entire medium. From meet-cutes to breakups-and-makeups it’s all been done a thousand times before and while I enjoy a fun rom com from time to time just to escape the world they’ve never been my go to movies of choice. In recent years though rom coms have evolved taking on more of a sub-genre status and melding other major genres like action and mystery into the mix. The new Netflix release “The Lovebirds” reflects this change in approach. Released to the streaming service after Paramount ditched a theatrical release making it one of the first victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, “The Lovebirds” teams two very capable actors, Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae, and embraces many of the rom com must haves but adds some action oriented flair to the mix which would be a nice touch if it wasn’t a bland imitation of a once-revolutionary formula that became a genre staple in the late 2000s.
“The Lovebirds” follows Rae and Nanjiani as Leilani and Jibran, a couple that has been together four years but find themselves in the middle of a sudden breakup after fighting over superficial issues before leaving for a party. While on the road they accidentally hit a bicyclist who they discover is being pursued by a second stranger who commandeers their vehicle. The stranger eventually murders the cyclist and flees before the couple can escape the scene leading Jibran and Leilani, who were the only ones witnessed at the scene of the crime, to seek a way to clear their names and solve the mystery of the murder before police and the killer catch up to them. All of this sounds fun and all, but sadly the idea of a couple reuniting and rekindling love over a stressful night or action packed side quests that get out of control has become somewhat of a cliché in recent years.
Films like “Game Night”, “Date Night”, “The Bounty Hunter”, and more have presented this similar idea all in the last ten years where a couple, either currently together or who had past relations, is forced into an action-movie scenario where their lives or reputations etc. are at risk if they don’t get to the bottom of things. Each one of these movies took their own direction with the idea, “Game Night” specifically being the best example of innovation in the 2010s, but “The Lovebirds” feels like the first really obvious case of this formula being lazily adapted for hopeful returns. It’s uninteresting and derivative to say the least and fails to engage you in the action which is disappointing because there was a lot of potential in this movie and, in a lot of ways, it is pretty funny. The story and premise and how things play out though just lack any sort of imagination.
The fact that “The Lovebirds” was led by two awesome performers who I’ve grown to appreciate over the past few years, Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae, was a big selling point for me and the idea of a premise focused on a couple composed of two different minorities, one African American and one Pakistani-America, who were trying to clear their name of potential murder charges opened the door for some fun and insightful commentary on how minorities are treated by law enforcement with a lighthearted twist. Sadly this promising insight is limited to one-off jokes that go nowhere and is otherwise barely explored in the context of the story even when it feels all too obvious that this should have been a topic of discussion among these two. In fact, it seems like the movie purposefully avoids focusing on the racial stereotype issue which, fine maybe that wasn’t the point, but its one of several missed opportunities with this movie that eventually led to it having almost no real purpose of major message to share. It would have made for a much more interesting dilemma for the couple as well without necessarily overshadowing the rekindled love element of the narrative.
The romantic comedy aspect of this film is also severely weighed down by a formulaic approach that wastes what is actually a charming and likable on-screen couple. I love these characters. I loved Rae and Nanjiani’s banter and chemistry. “The Lovebirds” makes us like these people and understand what makes them click which would normally be great, but they seem so perfect that there’s almost nothing believable about their separation or the relationship conflict. It is nice to see how later in the film the two are forced to realize just how good they have it with each other, but the movie gets so lost in trying to be the simplest form of a rom com action movie hybrid that it forgets to double down on saying what it has to say about love the same way is forsakes the racial stereotype promise. The idea is there but it’s gone as quickly as its mentioned in order to get us to the end of a mystery whose conclusion really isn’t that enthralling. If the movie focused more on the relationship and was more dedicated to saying something unique about love and the intricacies of being a fitting couple this could have been a sweet, effective and insightful rom com for the everyday romantic pairing to cling to to remind themselves what makes their love so perfect. I could have even forgiven the lack of social commentary on the minority issue if it was a more dedicated story about lessons in love, but unfortunately we find a second missed opportunity for “The Lovebirds” to be something more than just another garden variety rom com action movie.
Thankfully though, what saves “The Lovebirds” is that it’s at least funny. Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani are a great pairing for the screen and play off each other well selling even the worst joke to get a chuckle. The story is formulaic and derivative, but the humor works in its own special way which keeps this from being a complete failure even if it should have and had every opportunity to be so much more and actually earn our time. I will also say as far as copycat productions go “The Lovebirds” is far from the most irritating example especially in comedy and even more especially when it comes to romantic comedies. It’s short run time, charming leads and effective humor are its saving grace, but in the end “The Lovebirds” falls flat by lacking true purpose and intent settling for a formula that is starting to go stale as quickly as it became a revolution for the genre.