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Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Lovebirds

Michael Showalter's The Lovebirds tells a familiar story, but it does so with a lot of comic energy and fresh dialogue.  It's also the best work that star Kumail Nanjiani has done since his breakthrough big screen leading role in 2017's The Big Sick (which Showalter also directed), and gives his co-star Issa Rae (from The Photograph) a great opportunity to show off her strong comedic timing. 

Nanjiani and Rae play a couple named Jibran and Leilani, who were deeply in love when they met four years ago, but years of living together have allowed them to drive each other crazy.  In one of the smart moves the screenplay makes, when we see their argument that opens the film, it's not the usual disagreement over commitment issues that we see in sitcoms and romantic comedies.  They are arguing over petty things, like whether or not they would be able to win if they managed to be on The Amazing Race together, and the value of reality television in general.  This is an early sign that the movie is going to be smarter and wittier than you might expect, and luckily it does not betray this early promise.  Their disagreements continue as they drive to a friend's dinner party, and the two soon come to realize that maybe they're not as right for each other as they initially thought four years ago.

Before they can contemplate this much further, their car suddenly strikes a man on a bike (Nicholas X. Parsons) that is on the run from another man (Paul Sparks) who claims to be a police officer, and commandeers their vehicle in order to chase after the bicycle man.  Not only does the officer catch up to the fleeing man, but he manages to run him over numerous times with the couple's car, and then gets out and shoots him dead.  The cop is forced to make a hasty exit, leaving the bewildered couple behind to take the rap for the murder.  Now Jibran and Leilani must race around New Orleans, trying to uncover the connection between the bicycle man and the killer cop, which naturally leads to much bigger things, such as a bizarre sex cult and possible political blackmail.

The Lovebirds
streaks on by at a brisk 85 minutes or so, which is really the perfect length, as it doesn't let the audience linger too much on its loopy and hole-riddled plot, and instead focus on the funny dialogue that has a definite edge, as well as the wonderful comedic chemistry that the lead stars bring to the project.  They're clearly having a blast playing off of each other, and the smart dialogue they're given is not only often genuinely funny, but sometimes surprisingly cutting.  I especially loved the moment where the couple are nervous when a police car driven by a white cop slows down as it drives by, with the officer staring at them.  The car just passes on by, however, and Jibran is relieved that the cop was just "a normal racist" giving them a suspicious glance.

Unlike a lot of movies of this type where innocent or unlikely people find themselves on the run, this movie doesn't try to distract us with a bunch of subplots or bizarre side characters.  And when it does fall back on these tropes, it does so with a lot of energy, such as their run-in with the crazed wife of a local senator who seems to have a passion for unconventional torture techniques (a very funny Anna Camp).  There are also no big action set pieces where the main characters are forced to suddenly become stunt drivers or action stars.  It's a low key movie with some great dialogue, and a pair of lead actors who are up to the challenge of delivering it.  I kind of love it when a movie has total confidence in its lead stars to carry the entire film on their own, and that's what happens here.

The Lovebirds
has a lot to be confident about.  It's simple, escapist entertainment that has been made by smart people, and carries a lot of energy.  It's a great reminder that a simple idea can still work, as long as that idea has been given the proper care and attention, as well as attracted the right people to tell it. 

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