We’re entering an unknown era for the film industry, but the way in which The Lovebirds was repurposed for Netflix isn’t quite so unique.
We’ve seen Netflix snatch theatrical releases in the past (The Cloverfield Paradox), but this time, admittedly; timing is everything. Paramount was all set to release The Lovebirds theatrically on April 3, but due to the current global pandemic, Netflix opted to grab it and release it on May 22 instead. I assure you: this whole process is slightly more intriguing than the film itself.
The Lovebirds is a comedy that seems constantly at odds with itself. It has two very likable actors portraying two very unlikable characters (who are barely explored or redeemed). The plot moves at a breakneck pace and into all sorts of shadowy organizations or conspiracy theories, but never actually follows up on them. In-between all of that chaos, there’s laughs to be had. As the primary goal of a comedy (!) that’s great! But I can’t help but feel like there’s a lot of potential left on the table.
The premise, which we’ve seen before in films like Date Night, is simple. A couple is on the verge of breaking up after issues have been stewing for quite some time, but grow closer together thanks to a grand action-packed adventure. Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani don’t have the best chemistry together (they have their moments), but individually stand strong as comedic forces of nature.
When they’re hamming it up for the audience, The Lovebirds is firing on all cylinders. Issa Rae in particular gives it her all here, leaning heavily into her performance without overacting. Nearly everyone else feels wasted unfortunately, including the very talented character actor Paul Sparks: who is seemingly given no direction as to what his antagonistic character is even supposed to be. With a different director or tighter script, there would be “classic side characters” to point at, but they simply don’t exist here and are only on-screen for minutes at a time. Instead, the intriguing topography of New Orleans (where our heroes roam) can be considered the third principle actor.
I can also appreciate how succinct Lovebirds is with its moment to moment editing, despite the aforementioned loose threads. Where a lesser film would score cheeseball music on top of some of the heavier or dialogue-ridden scenes, Lovebirds focuses directly on the actors and their performances: which is a virtue in a film with two great leads. In the end, though, The Lovebirds can’t quite rise to the occasion. With a little more intrigue the mystery would have been more fun and with some slight script reworks, the characters would have been stronger. What we got instead is a slightly above average comedy that mostly serves fans of the two principal actors.