Murder Was the Case That They Gave Them: Showalter Gets Silly with Derivative Slapstick
Director Michael Showalter reteams with Kumail Nanjiani after the success of their beloved 2017 title The Big Sick for a screwball comedy of errors with The Lovebirds. Penned by Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall (The Go-Getters, 2018), their derivative narrative refashions familiar tropes of a relationship-on-the-rocks resuscitated by dangerous adventures but instead falls into a stilted odd couple category with Nanjiani and his co-star, Issa Rae. The whole is less than the sum of its parts considering the talents of both leads, who are required to shoulder the brunt of a vehicle which offers little reprieve with any real supporting characters.
A man (Paul Sparks), stating he is a police officer in pursuit of the injured man, commandeers their vehicle, only to savagely murder the bicyclist, which positions Leilani and Jibran as prime suspects for a vehicular manslaughter charge. Based on the optics of their situation, the couple flees the scene, taking it upon themselves to solve the mystery of the mustachioed murderer since they believe the police will charge them with the crime otherwise.
The Lovebirds plays a bit like a rehash of Shawn Levy’s equally flat Date Night, a 2010 tentpole which found Tiny Fey and Steve Carrell as a couple compromised by a dangerous night in the city meant as a reprieve from their stale rhythm. A meet-cute montage falls headlong into an awkward argument between the couple four years later, with Leilani’s wish to audition for the television show “The Amazing Race” meant to showcase how they’ve drifted apart—she’s carefree-ish and frivolous while he’s a pretentious snob. As things progress spasmodically, as these situations often do, they’re suddenly crashing a secretive orgy club which begs for some kind of Eyes Wide Shut/Stanley Kubrick/Arthur Schnitzler joke or reference (hell, what about a Cruise/Kidman relationship dig?), a missed opportunity which seems to suggest all who were involved in this project didn’t feel it merited any kind of intellectual or structural integrity.
While The Big Sick was a crowd pleaser, and benefited greatly from its basis on Nanjiani’s own life, Showalter’s strongest characterizations to date were displayed in the underrated Hello, My Name is Doris (2015). With The Lovebirds, only Nanjiani seems at ease, but the prickly characters of Jibran and Leilani don’t make for felicitous chemistry and one wonders if a somewhat more superficial element, such as making both characters roommates or something of this ilk, might have added some whimsical charm it’s otherwise lacking.