Rated R for a lot of Eyes Wide Shut references...if you know what I mean. It is a bit of a raunchy romantic action comedy. There's language. There's violence, including a violent act that is played up for laughs involving killing a person. While tonally, it may seem light, the movie discusses graphic acts. There's some indirect nudity in the movie as well. For a raunchy comedy, it might be tame for some. But regardless, it's still a well-deserved R.
DIRECTOR: Michael Showalter
It's another day that I don't want to write. I've been putting this off for the better part of the day, but I'm 40 minutes away from my daughter going down for her nap. So I gotta knock this out and figure out what I want to say about this movie. This sounds super insulting, but thank goodness for low expectations. I love Kumail Nanjiani, but I also am really hesitant about Netflix's releases of comedies. It's been more miss than hit. But I needed something light considering that we've been alternating between I'll Be Gone in the Dark and Perry Mason on HBO Max. It worked out really well. For all my snarky aloofness, The Lovebirds is a far better comedy, despite having a fairly well-tread plot to it.
This movie flies because it has a lot of talent behind it. While I know Nanjiani from his standup and his work on Silicon Valley, I don't know much about Issa Rae. Oh my goodness. She might be one of my favorite leading ladies after this movie. Like I mentioned, the story is pretty hashed out. The formula of innocents being thrown into a world of crime and mayhem has been worn to death. But the formula allows for a filmmaker to add his or her own jokes in the journey. But the movie, with its use of this journey, really is just an excuse for the two protagonists to shine and tell jokes. Honestly, while we belly laughed at some of the slapstick scenarios in the movie, most of the real joy came out of the conversations that Nanjiani shared with Rae. They have a really good back and forth and that's what made the movie completely memorable.
I always find it so fascinating that Michael Showalter is a director for hire considering that he's so rebellious and contrarian in terms of his brand of humor. I associate Showalter with his work with The State and Wet Hot American Summer. But I see his name attached to a lot of movies that you wouldn't think. He does a lot of rom-coms, which I never really understand. But The Lovebirds is a nice in-between compromise for a guy like him. It has a fairly accessible story and script, but still feels subversive enough to give the film a bit of edge at times. I jump back to the Eyes Wide Shut homage, which is so over-the-top that it reminds us of the absurdity of the original work. Yet, Showalter is playing in dangerous waters. He has to make this overtly sexual cult sequence in the middle of his film, yet knows that he's not going to go anywhere near Kubrick's NC-17 rating. It's great because the innuendo of the entire sequence enough to feel ribald without being overtly graphic.
Also, there's something genius about the fact that, while The Lovebirds is straight up riding out a trope, it is also commenting on that trope. I'm thinking of films like Game Night. Listen, I liked Game Night enough. It did its job. It made me laugh. But Game Night didn't really find anything ironic about the absurdity of the situation. Game Night felt more like another copy of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. But I have to give a round of applause to The Lovebirds for doing the most subversive response imaginable. The thing is, I kind of guessed the ending. But I always guess the ending that happened. I wanted the cops to know from moment one that it wasn't them. How perfect is that? I mean, the actual end where the bad cop kidnaps them was pretty on the nose. But I adored that these two got into so much trouble because they simply wouldn't do the most obvious thing in the world. That's great.
But I'm kind of at a loss about what the movie is trying to say about relationships. It's message is a bit muddled. Part of the problem is that its obvious message is so over-the-top. These two belong together and they have forgotten what made them like each other to begin with. Okay, rad. But what necessarily stops them from doing the same thing again. I mean, The Amazing Race is great and all, but there does some to be some kind of fundamental differences between each other. I mean, when we see this couple after the three year jump, things do seem pretty toxic. Part of it comes from Jibran's lack of adventure and Leilani's attachment to social media. But if that was it, it would absolutely silly that these two would be together for three years.
Remember what Speed's message about relationships in the wake of a shared trauma was about? The Lovebirds seems to be taking the opposite (kind of) approach to the narrative of love. Speed kept repeating that Keanu and Bullock shouldn't get together because nothing good comes out of that kind of relationship. Of course, When Harry Met Sally did the same thing by preaching one message only to stymie that idea. But Speed 2: Cruise Control (yup) confirmed the message of the first film by breaking up Keanu and Bullock. Lovebirds has everyone looking at this couple. The comment on how annoying these two people are and then insist that they really belong together. Yeah, in terms of telling a romantic story in the midst of an action comedy, it mostly does a lot of the heavy work. But I also don't know if there's anything real being said about relationships in this movie.
Don't get me wrong. I don't want the movie ending with them breaking up. That seems like a bit too much like a bummer evening for such a light movie. But I don't know if there's anything that can be taken away from this film when it comes to relationships. Perhaps if they actually tried talking their problems out instead of being sardonic. Perhaps couples counseling is what is really needed. But the movie doesn't really take a hard stance. Instead, and this is me reaching a bit, is that maybe people remind you of their best traits in the time of a crisis. Both of these people instantly put aside their garbage when it is time to get a goal achieved, which is noble, I guess. But is that really the basis of a relationship?
That's really because the movie is artificially about growth. The two character grow because we're told that they grow. Really, both Jibran and Leilani are the same people from the beginning of the film as they are in the end. But that's also kind of okay in a romantic comedy like this because we like those people. Also, they fell in love with that person. I wish there was just some acknowledgment that couples need to love each other in the boring times and the exciting times. By having the couple on The Amazing Race at the end is a cute callback, it also is a reminder that these two might be completely toxic for each other. They flounder when the world gets boring. There can't always be an Amazing Race, can there? Are there couples like that? Man, that probably gets to be pretty expensive. Also, it probably makes the real world seem REALLY boring.
Regardless, I love these two together. Perhaps it got a little weird because, as much as I adored Issa Rae in this film, I can't stop seeing Kumail Nanjiani without Emily Gordon. Gordon doesn't seem to do any acting, which has got to be a weird relationship thing. At least in The Big Sick, it was their baby together. This was me just seeing Kumail cheating on Emily. See, this is why I shouldn't invest in people's personal lives through podcasts. Lots of actors are married and have to pretend to be in love with someone else. It's just that I love Kumail and Emily so much that it just became weird. But you also hear how much I enjoyed the movie? So it doesn't matter. This was just a discussion that my wife and I had while watching the movie. It's kind of how I couldn't watch Mission: Impossible III immediately after Tom Cruise was jumping up and down on a couch on Oprah. Sometimes, it's hard separating the actor from the role.
I heard that a lot of people didn't enjoy the movie. That's reasonable. But in terms of silly comedies, I think that this might be the best thing that Netflix has released. It has great chemistry. The director is rad. The actors are on top of their game. I totally dug it. All this hype in mind, also go in with low expectations. Part of what made the movie great was that it caught me off guard. It won't change a life, but it is an entertaining evening for sure.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.