The Lovebirds Review: Issa Rae & Kumail Nanjiani Form a Perfect Rom-Com Duo

Following an expected formula is often viewed as a negative thing when it comes to crafting films. It takes much less creativity to trace over what has already been done before and simply sub out actors, locations, and plot details. We're to the point where the term "formulaic" is exclusively used as a bad word in reviews, and it makes sense as to why. 99% of the time, a film following an established formula isn't very good, mainly because the audience has seen it before and giving it a new dressing won't change that. But there's a reason formulas exist. When injected with the right combination of passion, charm, and ingenuity, a tried-and-true formula can make for a pretty great movie. That's exactly what Netflix has in The Lovebirds.

On the surface, The Lovebirds is a typical action/rom-com movie, featuring a couple that has some problems in their relationship before being thrust into a zany crime plot that does nothing but spiral further out of control as the night goes on. It sounds familiar, but those movies that came before didn't star the likes of Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani, and that makes all the difference in the world.

Nanjiani and Rae star as the bickering couple in director Michael Showalter's new film, and they might be the most realistic and hilarious rom-com leads in quite some time. They are each electrifying in their own way and their chemistry is off the charts. Every one of Rae's sharp deliveries is met with an equally wonderful retort from Nanjiani. Individually, both of these actors are great. Together, they're a force of nature.

Rae commands attention each and every time she's on-screen. Anyone who has watched a single episode of Insecure knows that to be the case. When she speaks, you're captivated, end of story. While Nanjiani is equally as charismatic as her scene partner, he's an expert at making the most out of the spaces in-between. He can turn small asides into unexpected gut-busters without ever trying to overpower his co-star, and continue on with the lightspeed conversation without missing a beat. Watching these two argue is like the rom-com equivalent of Rocky and Apollo Creed in the ring, bobbing and weaving as they trade endlessly entertaining jabs.

They're Billy Crystal/Meg Ryan-level good, which is the highest compliment I could ever pay a pair of romantic leads.

Showalter does a great job of keeping the ship steady as Rae and Nanjiani do their thing. His direction is solid, not quite as compelling as the work he put in with The Big Sick, but it never has to be. There is so much going on when his two leads are on the screen together that getting inventive or trying to break the mold would make a scene feel too busy or overcomplicated. Instead, Showalter wisely steps back and lets the actors lead the way.

Screenwriters Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall deserve a lot of credit for creating a couple of characters that are easy to care about. So many times a film like this can fail because its leads are paper-thin, but Jibran and Leilani have some incredibly genuine arguments. Whether they fight about something silly, like competing on The Amazing Race, or something serious, such as their future together, the dialogue is consistently real. They say things any of us would say and react the same way as any of our significant others would.

Is The Lovebirds a formulaic movie? Yes, most definitely, but that isn't a bad thing. Formulas work when they have the right ingredients. That's just science. Right now, I can't think of better ingredients than Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani.


Rating: 4 out of 5

The Lovebirds arrives on Netflix on May 22nd.