The Lovebirds (2020)

“We’re the bad boys. What are we going to do?”

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Directed by Michael Showalter
Starring Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani

The Lovebirds (2020) is a romantic comedy that deals with modern relationship issues such as different expectations with regards to sex and the rose-coloured insights into friends’ lives through social media which create unrealistic expectations. The film is a laugh out loud comedy with fantastic writing and dialogue delivery from our main characters: Leilani (Issa Rae) and Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani). The film also touches on race issues, particularly when dealing with the police, which are coming to a head in America at the moment.

We first meet our characters outside an apartment with a blue door and immediately any rom-com fan is back in Notting Hill (1999) with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. The characters are perfect for each other, like Will and Anna, and we watch as they get to know each other and fall in love. The film is not about that though. It is not about the starting of a perfect relationship. It is about a real relationship. The film is what happens after the rom-com ends. The Lovebirds takes place four years later than the opening sequence at which point the characters’ relationship is on the rocks and our pair are calling it quits.

The decision that Jibran and Leilani make to finally pull the plug on their relationship sets the film on a whirlwind. The plot takes an unexpected turn and never looks back as it tries to prove to us and to our characters that real relationships are not perfect, but that Jibran and Leilani are perfect for each other.

The screenplay by Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall is very witty and I was laughing out loud. The plot had me on my toes, which is very unusual, and though I could guess some major plot points – this is a romantic comedy after all, part of the joy is knowing what you are going to get – I often found myself surprised by the turn of events. Both our main characters struggle terribly under the pressure of their situation and the writers use this to invoke humour which works extremely well. The film is very thought out with every scene and line having purpose to either the plot, the humour or the overarching message which the film is trying to deliver. I find this style of filmmaking very satisfying and believe that it resembles that of great directors such as Spielberg. After The Big Sick (2017), I will be watching out for what Showalter does next.

The performances by both Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjani are fantastic. This the first performance I have seen by Rae and I was really impressed. I look forward to see what the future brings for her. After The Big Sick (2017), where Nanjiani gives an amazingly powerful performance as himself, is Nanjiani able to repeat in The Lovebirds? Yes, of course. Maybe because he is always playing a character the reflects his own personality, he is able to create characters that feel filled out and three-dimensional. Is The Lovebirds a poignant film akin to The Big Sick? – no, however that should not be viewed as a failing of The Lovebirds. This is simply a different film. It still has the twists and turns, just without the emotional turmoil. It is a great, light hearted film in its own right, and the actors do a great job.

The cinematography is also impressive. During the frat house scene our attention is drawn to the foreground where a seemingly important conversation is happening, however our murderer is in the background of the shot, through the doorway in another room murdering the frat boys. By creating an image that is balanced in which we have the conversation on one side and the doorway on the other, if you are not paying attention you will miss the action just like the characters do.

There is one scene that made me so terribly uncomfortable – when Jibran and Leilani turn up to a friend’s dinner party in clothes that they have bought from a pharmacy and ask everyone for help. I could not keep watching as they tried to explain that the reason they needed help unlocking the phone was because Jibran had been hit too hard in the head. However, you have to admire their friends in this scene, who refuse to acknowledge or question that their friends are wearing really unusual clothes and that one has very obviously been beaten up. They also support the main characters when asked to borrow clothes to go see a doctor, and Leilani even asks them to hide a large yellow envelope claiming that it contains dick pics. It is a fantastic scene that really sets us on edge but also demonstrates the importance of friendship.

The Lovebirds also comments on relationships and the importance of supporting each other and working as a team. Our characters have endearing arguments over whether they would win The Amazing Race, however the arguments do highlight the issues with their relationship;

“To win the Amazing Race, you need to be a team, you need to be on the same page. I feel like I’m on one page of the book and you’re, like, reading a magazine.”

The idea that the couple cannot function as a team anymore carries throughout the film. On several occasions Jibran counts to three and tries to portray to Leilani what he is thinking without speaking, and of course they are never on the same page at the start of the film, however as it progresses we get to watch how their cohesion changes over time.

We watch their relationship change as the characters deal with needing to change clothes. Changing clothes is an intimate behaviour that represents how comfortable they are with each other. The first time we see it, they are arguing and Leilani changes in front of Jibran while they are yelling at each other. The next time, Jibran is holding up clothes to cover her if someone comes down the isle while she is changing but he does not look. Then finally at Leilani’s friend Reya’s house Jibran turns around when Leilani goes to change and Leilani says its okay, but when Jibran turns back around they agree it is in fact weird. Watching their relationship break down over this small intimate behaviour is heartbreaking and portrays how our characters feel about their relationship and how, even with the craziness that is going on, they are still thinking about the break up. This is a really fantastic technique to examine where the relationship is at without disrupting the flow of the plot by having our characters discuss it directly.

The Lovebirds also discuss many problems with social media. Social media can impact our ability to legitimately empathise with people, allowing us to make posts about the real world for the attention we receive, rather than actually interacting with the problems. We see footage on the news of the bystanders who find The Cyclist who was hit by a car. They had filmed themselves with the body in the background, denying the person who has died dignity and respect. Reya also discusses that she only posts photos of her and her boyfriend in bed together to target her exes, rather than because she is in a happy relationship;

“Two of my exes follow me. I’m just trying to make them jealous.”

Social media can also cause us to confuse the images and videos of relationships that are posted with real relationships, resulting in us questioning the happiness of our own relationships. Leilani brings this up when she realises that her relationship was just like everyone else’s;

“But I was so obsessed with what everyone else thought, except the one person I care about the most.”

The Lovebirds also explores how relationships change over time. We see a young couple who cannot keep their hands off of each other and who talk about how they miss each other even though they are sitting right next to each other. This is compared to a couple Leilani and Jibran discuss later, who sit at a restaurant and eat in complete silence;

“The more I think about them, the more I’m like maybe they weren’t miserable. You know? Maybe they were just, comfortable with each other.”

Leilani also finds out that her friends that are in long term relationships whom she perceived as having the best relationships are also not having sex all the time, and that they look at her and Jibran’s relationship as being perfect. The film really drives home the point that the relationships you see in romantic comedies are not real. You will fight all the time and whatever sex you are or are not having is normal.

The film deals with racism and the difficulties minorities encounter in America when dealing with the police, which is extremely topical in 2020. This first arises when a bystander who reports the couple hitting The Cyclist with their car states:

“She just happens to be Africa-American and he just happens to be a person of colour as well. But I don’t, like, think they’re murderers because they’re minorities. I think they’re murderers because they literally just killed a guy and he’s laying here.”

The implication here is that often people report that they think someone has done a crime purely based on the colour of their skin rather than whether or not they are actually guilty. Our main characters are then sitting in a diner talking about why they cannot go to the police, and what would happen if they did:

“Do you think the police care about the truth? Do you think they are gonna give us the benefit of the doubt?”

The film does not have to mention why the characters believe they will not be given the benefit of the doubt. The audience is trusted to be mature enough to understand why. The film also deals with equally topical police brutality:

“That’s me covering up my body cam, so I can beat your ass, you fucking liar.”

This scene contrasts with the many films we have seen before where someone is worried they are being set up for a crime. They run for fear that the police will not believe them, but race is not ever a factor, despite it being a factor for many Americans. It is therefore important dialogue to be having and to normalise through a romantic comedy. The main characters freak out when a cop car drives past them and the cop is looking at them as if he is suspicious of them, but as the car continues on they say with relief:

“Oh, he’s just a regular racist.”

Like this is common place and part of their lives. Which it is. The fear of the police continues to undertone the scene where they are interviewed by the police without the racial overtones that are expected and, almost in relief, the characters say:

“This has been a good experience… Is there a comment card? Cause I’m doing five.”

It is unfortunate that this scene only works because the police officer herself is a woman of colour and leaves the audience with the thought that if it was a white male, this may have ended very differently for our characters.

The Lovebirds is a great romantic comedy that deals with real relationships and real issues that people are facing in the modern world through a fantastically insane plot. It will have you laughing out loud at the characters’ antics and I highly recommend it for your Friday Night Film Night.

P.S A special shout out to this film: There is a very long driving scene at the beginning of the film in which the characters continually look at one another while they are driving. Then as soon as they look at each other for longer than is safe…. they hit something! Perfect!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s