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The Lovebirds

In a recent review, I made the promise that I would be there for the next movie Issa Rae made. Lo and behold, it turns out that the lovely and talented Ms. Rae came out with another movie this year and it’s free to stream on Netflix. Even better, she stars and exec-produces alongside Kumail Nanjiani, a charming and talented comedian in his own right. Oh, and the film was directed by Michael Showalter, who previously directed a delightful little romcom with Nanjiani called The Big Sick.

I’m sold. Let’s see what we’ve got with The Lovebirds.

The film opens with our romantic leads, Leilani and Jibran, respectively played by Rae and Nanjiani. We meet them when they’re in the initial stages of dating, and it’s… well, it’s cute. “Adorably awkward” might be more descriptive. Their chemistry is nowhere near what Nanjiani had in The Big Sick, and it doesn’t hold a candle to Rae’s smoldering intensity in The Photograph. Still, for a couple in the awkward phase of starting out, it’s passable.

Then we cut to four years later. Leilani and Jibran have been in a committed relationship this entire time and they’re now having a petty squabble over nothing. This is where the chemistry really fires on all cylinders. They’ve got the rapid-fire banter, the underhanded remarks, and the pain that can only come from a loved one. It’s funny, it’s heartfelt, it’s sympathetic, and, uh… yeah, it’s, ah… it’s still going.

Yup, they’re still going at it.

Look, a little bit of a lovers’ quarrel goes a very long way. Especially if these are the only two characters on the screen and we’re stuck in a car with them. At that point, it feels like we’re caught in the middle of something, and in real life, this is the point where any reasonable person would excuse themselves to let the couple in question sort things out. Yet we’re stuck with them past the point where it stops being funny and starts getting painful and awkward…

Wait, what’s that? We’re ten minutes in and the plot’s getting started? Perfect timing. What’ve we got?

Long story short, Jibran unwittingly hits an anonymous bike messenger, who proceeds to get back up and flee on his bike. Jibran’s car is then hijacked by some anonymous mustachioed heavy (played by Paul Sparks), who chases the bike messenger and proceeds to run him over about four or five times until the bicyclist is finally dead. The mustachioed heavy then proceeds to exit the scene, leaving Jibran and Leilani to deal with the bystanders.

At this point, Jibran and Leilani proceed to implicate themselves with every word out of their mouths, loudly giving their names to the bystanders before running from the murder scene. A short while later, they take a cell phone call from the police and proceed to compound the error by outright lying to the cops.

And this, gentle readers, is why lawyers make so much money just for telling their clients to shut the fuck up. Seriously, all these characters had to do was demand an attorney (they can certainly afford to hire one, based on the look of their New Orleans apartment) and invoke their right to remain silent, and this would’ve been a very different movie.

These are the characters who call for rideshares with their cell phones, dressing up in gold jackets and bright pink unicorn hoodies that they pull off the rack, all while they’re running and hiding from law enforcement. Did they buy those clothes with a fucking credit card while they were at it? Because at this rate, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they did!

I should add that later on, these same characters try and fail to break down a front door after Jibran actively balks at climbing in through the fire escape. Then they finally go up the fire escape and try breaking through a window… except that Jibron tries to break the glass with his bare fucking hands instead of wrapping that ridiculous gold jacket around his fist like any rational person would do!

Yes, I realize that these characters are in over their heads. Yes, it’s perfectly sensible that anyone so rightfully nervous may not be thinking straight. I completely understand why two people of color would have no reason to trust the police.

But even with all of that being said, there is absolutely no excuse for characters acting this impossibly stupid. From start to finish, top to bottom, this is unmistakably an Idiot Plot, powered exclusively by the characters’ rank stupidity. Without fail, every single time the characters are faced with a brazenly obvious right choice, they consistently make the worst possible wrong choice.

I can only put up with that so many times before I lose all sympathy, the joke gets old, and the plot becomes predictable. I honestly didn’t even care what blackmailing scheme Jibran and Leilani got mixed up in, I just wanted the movie to end so I wouldn’t have to hear their incessant babbling anymore. My the time the third act started, I was screaming “SHUT THE FUCK UP! SHUT THE FUCK UP! SHUT THE FUCK UP!” because it was the only way I could get through the umpteenth scene of our two leads blathering their way into an even deeper hole.

Seriously, when the characters are so annoying that it becomes a factor in the climax, that’s when you know it was a mistake to start watching in the first place.

So is there anything about it that works? Well, I genuinely like the film’s portrayal of how and why two people of color would have no reason to trust the police. In fact, that lack of trust makes a bad situation far worse than it would’ve been if our leads had just gone to the cops in the first place, implicitly demonstrating a powerful reason for systemic change. And really, portraying this issue as a crime thriller comedy was a bold move so courageous and creative that I have to commend the filmmakers for the effort.

Perhaps more importantly, this is a movie all about a couple on the rocks. Our two leads have been in a fantastic relationship for four years, and they have to figure out if they really are breaking up or just going through a rough patch. It’s not always easy to tell when two people are better off apart than together, especially when looking from the outside. This issue is nuanced and it’s not terribly romantic, but it’s a very real question that couples face every day.

I have personally seen Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae in far superior romantic dramas. I know for a fact that they both have the talent, the charm, and the sensibility to sell the internal and external conflict of a couple trying to figure out what their next step is. Trouble is, whatever soul or heart they might’ve brought to the table got drowned out by inane drivel and boneheaded decisions.

The Lovebirds was excruciating to sit through. It would’ve seriously been less painful to spend 90 minutes beating my head against a wall. As much as I love these actors, Issa Rae’s talent was totally wasted here and Nanjiani’s dorky charm is pathetically misplaced in any kind of crime thriller.

The characters are relentlessly annoying for how aggressively stupid they are. And no, I don’t care if their annoying nature pays off in the climax, it’s still annoying. This one is absolutely NOT RECOMMENDED.

(P.S. I’ve just been informed that Manic Expression permanently shut down yesterday, due to problems with their hosting service. For practically as long as I’ve been writing reviews, that site was a second home for my blog entries and a great many of my readers found me there. I will miss the site dearly, with gratitude for the memories and all the belief they had in me.)

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