Of The Inoffensive Offensiveness of Netflix Original Movies: A “The Lovebirds” Review
Despite being about solving a murder mystery, the most surprising thing about The Lovebirds might be that it was ever meant to get a theatrical release. If Netflix has had success with its original TV Shows throughout its run as a streaming giant, the same thing can seldom be said about its efforts in the film department; and if Marriage Stories and other Irishmen have been able to break out of the streaming circle and into wider film discussion recently, the most part of their independent production still proves that lasting cinematic impact on their part remains an exception to the rule for now.
Just like the many other Netflix comedies that came before it, Michael Showalter’s The Lovebirds has a lot going for it — at least in theory. “Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae star as a funny couple who try to prove their innocence from a murder and save their relationship in the same night (and it’s directed by the guy who made The Big Sick, remember that movie? It was pretty good wasn’t it?)” sounds about as perfect of a pitch that anyone could ever come up with. The problem resides in the disappointing realisation that there isn’t much more than this premise to justify the film’s entire existence.
Jibran (Nanjiani) and Leilani (Rae)’s nonsensical fights may make us smile in the first few minutes, but it is only a short matter of time before they start turning sour. Both of the lead actors are extremely likeable, but even their charisma ultimately can’t save a movie that is essentially just two people yelling at each other through a corny draft of a plot, and not in a particularly funny way. The lack of any kind of character development is compensated by increasingly obvious attempts at making us laugh, and what could have been a fun hour and a half soon turns exhausting to watch. For a film relying so much on the appeal of its main cast, there is a surprising deficiency in the personality department for the main couple, and while they are not anywhere near dislikable, it’s still hard to root for them beyond a surface level.
But this is where the “Netflix movie” side of The Lovebirds truly kicks in full force: even its most obvious weaknesses aren’t reprehensible enough to be really that annoyed by them. The film’s biggest crime isn’t its inconsistent comedy, its lackluster plot, its nonsense third (or first, or second) act or even its persistent belief that it is something better than it really is, or at least it isn’t any of these flaws by themselves. What makes it a pain to watch is the way all of these things intersect in order to make its viewing experience as forgettable as can be.This isn’t a terrible, offensive or repulsive movie, not by any means. It’s not even the tiniest bit insufferable. How could it, with such a wacky premise and such lovable faces at its front? What it is, however, is a film you will without a doubt forget about five minutes after watching it; and depending on who you ask, this might not be that much better than a truly terrible experience.
If hating a film isn’t a pleasing experience by any stretch of the imagination, being stuck in the strange place between like and dislike with one isn’t necessarily any better. Too few jokes land to make this funny, but too many do to make it a complete drag. The cast isn’t at its best, but their best is already such a high standard that saying anything about a bad performance would be completely undeserved. The plot doesn’t make much sense and feels pretty pointless, but this pointlessness is exactly what makes it impossible to truly be angry at it. It’s kind of good, and also kind of really not, and mostly too bland to actually care to debate about where it really stands in terms of quality.
The Lovebirds sounds like a fun time on paper — but with the compassionate and smart comedy that Showalter demonstrated earlier in its career now being nowhere to be found, we are stuck watching an offensively inoffensive kind of entertainment. It may become a very worthy addition to the canon of “you could probably see this on an airplane’s catalogue” movies — but unfortunately, there is little chance of seeing it ever become much of anything else. It has the type of innocuous dullness that characterises a bit too many of direct to streaming movies, and all the promotion in the world from Netflix can’t hide the fact that you will probably forget all about it a few hours after watching it. Skip it or watch it, the ultimate outcome will most likely be the same.