‘The Lovebirds’ review: A dynamic romantic comedy holding back its full potential
Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani in 'The Lovebirds'. | Courtesy of Netflix

The new Netflix movie The Lovebirds isn’t exactly earth-shattering cinema. The romantic comedy leans into its film genre and many of the clichés that come with it, heavily. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it hits many of the marks that those interested in this type of movie would be satisfied with. What helps the film go the extra mile to stand out from many like it is how it adds its own unique flair with against-the-status-quo casting and interesting plot twists along the way. It’s a highly funny movie that at times holds itself back from the full potential it could have embodied.

Directed by Michael Showalter (Wet Hot American Summer) and written by Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall, The Lovebirds stars Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) and Issa Rae (Insecure) as an on-the-rocks couple that soon finds their bond being extremely tested when they are unintentionally embroiled in a murder mystery. The journey to clear their names has them jumping from one zany moment to the next as they try not to get murdered by the end of the night.

There’re many fun and entertaining things to like about The Lovebirds, and at one hour and 26 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It jumps right into giving you a glimpse of where the couple, Jibran (Nanjiani) and Leilani (Rae), stand in their current lives, which sets the stage for the epic misadventure they end up going on to clear themselves of murder.

What makes The Lovebirds stand out from many of the films that dominate this genre of romantic comedy is the casting and representation. It may seem like a minor detail, or that somehow the film is getting unnecessary diversity “bonus” points for having the two leads being people of color, but the casting choice actually enhances the film in a way that would have been impossible if Jibran and Leilani were white.

Whole new layers of context and justification are tapped into regarding the decisions of the characters that might have seemed far fetched in any other circumstance. Not to give any spoilers away, but both lead characters make socially relevant (and tragically funny) points regarding why it wouldn’t be a walk in the park for them—a Black woman and a Pakistani-American man—to simply claim innocence of a crime and be believed by law enforcement.

The diverse backgrounds of the characters help poke fun at societal norms, such as racial profiling and inequality in the criminal justice system, that would not have been possible without the characters being who they are. It enriches the story for the better.

Not to mention, it’s nice to see a mainstream film having a Black woman lead in a story that doesn’t focus on suffering and exploitation but instead highlights the joy and humor that isn’t often afforded in media representations of one of the most vulnerable demographics in the United States.

Rae and Nanjiani also have dynamic chemistry and comedic timing. This is important because if the couple at the heart of the romantic comedy falls flat, then the movie loses much of its appeal. Fortunately that is not the case here, as the banter between Rae and Nanjiani lands well throughout the film, making for some genuine laugh-out-loud moments.

With all that said, The Lovebirds does have some shortcomings. The pacing of the movie lags at times. Quiet moments after intense action or comedy can be useful to give the audience a breather before the next wild incident, but some of the quieter moments in this movie deflate the energy. It also detracts from the high stakes of murder and mayhem and the sense of urgency that drives the better parts of the film forward.

Due to this repeated push and pull, the film falls shy of reaching the true height of the potential it could have manifested. That’s not to say it isn’t a good movie—it really is, but it could have been even better. The villains are never completely fleshed out; the plot twists, although entertaining, don’t go much further than a set up for a joke; and the film does so well in tying up all the loose ends that the conclusions feel a little too convenient.

The world needs more quality movies with people of color characters that spark laughter rather than tears. The Lovebirds achieves exactly that.

The Lovebirds is available through Netflix on May 22, 2020. The trailer can be found here.


Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.