Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani Kill It in This Rom-Com With a Crime Twist
DIRECTOR: MICHAEL SHOWALTER/2020
Jibran and Leilani are not the perfect couple. The spark they found four years ago has flamed out, and their non-stop bickering now makes them want to call it quits. But it turns out their breakup won’t be the most dramatic experience of the evening—breakups tend to feel like small potatoes when you witness a murder, especially when it looks like you did it. Now Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae) have to get over their fighting and stick together to find the murderer and clear their names before the police catch up with them.
Not every comedy stars two leads as well-matched as Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani, whose enviable chemistry lets them alternate playing the comic and playing the straight man, sometimes bouncing back and forth within one scene. They can shoot out jokes with a manic energy or a dry delivery, and the switches never feel forced. Both Nanjiani and Rae have proven their romantic chops in The Big Sick and Insecure as well, which means they have no problems switching to relational beats either. Their partnership feels easy and lived in, and if you told me they’ve already committed to eight more movies together Hepburn-and-Tracy style, I’d buy tickets for all of them right now.
Speaking of The Big Sick, this movie reunites Nanjiani with director Michael Showalter, who once again keeps the balance of heart and laughs. Here he and the cast lean into the latter, a must for such a ridiculous plot. While its observations on policing and racial profiling are more than relevant to this moment, The Lovebirds is not social commentary—it’s a relationship story with a crime twist, and a very silly one at that. If you enjoyed Game Night, then you’ll be familiar with (and probably enjoy) this formula of normal people getting caught up in the world of crime for one crazy night. Fortunately, while their story structures are similar, The Lovebirds isn’t just a rehash of the 2018 hit. Don’t watch the trailer to confirm since it gives away jokes you don’t want spoiled, but trust me—Rae slapping someone into confessing the conspiracy while wearing a unicorn hoodie is much funnier in context.
Another shared trait with Game Night I’m grateful for: Though The Lovebirds isn’t family-friendly, it doesn’t lean into raunchy humor as much as another version of this movie might. Too many modern comedies get lazy and rely on shock value instead of originality and wit—something I mourned in last year’s dud, The Hustle—but this movie lives up to its name. The heart of this movie is a love story, not cheap attention grabs. While the plot depends on suspending our disbelief (especially for a surprising number of outfit changes in one night), their emotional journey feels real enough to get invested, making The Lovebirds an excellent pick for a Netflix date night in.