The COVID19 pandemic of 2020 has hit cinema hard. If you were in production, your film was shut down. If you were in projection, your cinema had its doors closed. Films scheduled for release suddenly found their determined fate shifting, either being delayed or sent to video on demand, bypassing the theatrical release entirely. The Lovebirds is one such film sent to streaming via Netflix. Though when watching it you get the sense that Paramount were looking for any excuse to get rid of it; The Lovebirds hasn’t just bypassed a traditional release, it’s simply been dumped by its distributor onto someone else. It’s not hard to see why.
Following a cutesy prologue introducing their first meeting, Leilani and Jibran (Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani) are in a relationship that’s near breaking point. By chance they become embroiled in a murder, finding themselves as suspects as they run around New Orleans trying to find the true culprit. The Lovebirds’ problems are visible from the first shot and fail to improve as the film progresses: its shooting style is incredibly flat. Netflix’s attitude and approach to digital photography is just another in a long list of war crimes (though the occasional well shot film finds it way on there) and is just further ammunition for irritating film-bros who relish “the good old days” of celluloid because their faves Tarantino and Nolan told them to. But even by Netflix standards this is dull. Scenes fail to have any interesting camerawork, instead being relegated to standard coverage. Whether this is down to the usual studio standard of relying heavily on improvisation or just a safe creative approach, either way it rivals the static photography of TV films. I can’t for a moment fathom this being theatrically released and projected onto a cinema screen, only further strengthening the idea that this was always destined for the streaming airwaves.
I can’t for a moment fathom this being theatrically released and projected onto a cinema screen
If the stale photography does one justice, it captures leads Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani trying their best with the material given. Reuniting with The Big Sick director Michael Showalter, Nanjiani is, as always, entirely watchable, even if this is far removed from the two’s previous working relationship. Showalter’s direction is relatively lifeless and uninterested. While that may have worked for his charming previous film, for a buddy comedy revolving around crime, it certainly needed a pulse, something The Lovebirds sorely lacks. Instead, Nanjiani shines alongside Rae, with the two delightfully portraying a couple on the brink of a break-up. While the duo won’t likely set the house on fire, their chemistry is certainly impressive enough to pass a term paper. Unfortunately, the pair are practically abandoned on screen, with the script banking on them to divulge as much personality into their characters as possible. For brief moments it pays off, with the two delivering laughs that the material doesn’t quite deserve, yet stale is stale, regardless of how much you try to heat it up. Rae and Nanjiani deserve better.
As the plot pushes along and gradually runs out of steam, it’s clear that even at 87 minutes, The Lovebirds drastically outstays its welcome. The two leads are eventually led to a conceptually wild moment, as they find themselves within their own Eyes Wide Shut nightmare/dream (no judging here). This riff on a Kubrick masterpiece offers intrigue, if only because it dares to push the conventional constrictions of the film. Rae and Nanjiani’s musings on the proceedings deliver a few much needed chuckles, yet this glimpse of opportunity is all too brief. It’s perhaps a deafening disappointment when you take into account that such a scene could be considered a subversion. But considering that most of Netflix’s target demographic probably don’t have any will to know Kubrick, that’s the reality we live in. No one even hangs dong…
This riff on a Kubrick masterpiece offers intrigue, if only because it dares to push the conventional constrictions of the film.
The Lovebirds is an embodiment of the Netflix ideal. Short enough to cater to its durational ideal, safe and inoffensive enough to appeal to the algorithm, and so forgettable that you’ll have forgotten its title by the time you’ve put the hypothetical disc back into the hypothetical box. If The Lovebirds is any indication of the ‘cinematic’ release landscape of 2020 to come, then, to quote Bobby Vinton, “it’s gonna be a cold, lonely summer”…