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The Lovebirds is mostly an excuse to put Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani in a rom-com, and I’m not mad

A couple on the verge of a breakup have one wild night in Netflix’s new comedy.

A couple, wearing ridiculous clothes, stand at the head of a tail, grinning uncomfortably.
Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae in The Lovebirds.
Skip Bolen/Netflix
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

Every week, new original films debut on Netflix, Hulu, and other digital services, often films with modest budgets and limited fanfare. Cinemastream is Vox’s series highlighting the most notable of these premieres, in an ongoing effort to keep interesting and easily accessible new films on your radar.

The Lovebirds

The premise: A couple who used to have chemistry is on the verge of breaking up — until they accidentally get implicated in a murder.

What it’s about: Really, The Lovebirds is an excuse to put Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani in the same movie and let them bounce off one another. And I’m not complaining. The pair play Leilani (Rae) and Jibran (Nanjiani), who’ve been together for four years but are very much getting on one another’s nerves. He’s interested in floating the possibility of marriage; she’s against it. He makes documentaries; she works in advertising and calls documentaries “reality shows that nobody watches.” Does she actually think that, or is she just trying to get under his skin? Are the million little things they do that annoy one another new, or are they just indications that their relationship has run out of rope? It’s an age-old question for long-term relationships.

Leilani and Jibran’s particular long-term relationship is headed for a split when The Lovebirds begins. That is, until they’re driving home from a very unpleasant dinner date and hit a biker — who just looks at them, wild-eyed, and keeps going. Then a cop (Paul Sparks) commandeers their car, with them in it, to chase down the biker and mow him over in an alleyway, before disappearing. Suddenly it looks like Leilani and Jibran are the murderers. And their attempts to clear their name send them on a strange thrill ride.

Directed by the great Michael Showalter (The Big Sick, Wet Hot American Summer), The Lovebirds is a grab-bag of set pieces, some of which work better than others. (In one stretch, Leilani dons unicorn pajamas purchased in a drugstore and then has to threaten people menacingly, and the visual gag goes a long way; a dinner party scene is less effective.) It’s a wild adventure through New Orleans, taking them from houses owned by shady organized criminal operations that employ frat bros to do their dirty work, to an encounter with a menacing crime boss bearing bacon grease, to a dinner party with the couple’s unbearable friends, to a very unexpected stint at the gathering of an Eyes Wide Shut-style secret society.

You can sort of guess the narrative beats going in — and of course you can; The Lovebirds is a romantic comedy, and you know what will happen. But the joy of any by-the-numbers genre is in seeing how it’s pulled off. Rae and Nanjiani are terrific comedians whose wisecracks and antics are thoroughly entertaining, so even if you know what the ending of The Lovebirds will be, it’s great fun watching them get there.

Critical reception: The Lovebirds has garnered generally favorable reviews from critics. At IGN, Kristy Puchko writes that “Michael Showalter and company aren’t reinventing the wheel here, but it’s a solidly made wheel.”

How to watch it: The Lovebirds is streaming on Netflix.

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