There really is an unfortunate lack of good romantic comedy thrillers. They’re the perfect date movie and the perfect sub genre to keep the mid-range budget film alive! But still, we only get one every couple of years and my wife has to deal with watching Godzilla: King of Monsters (2019) while I have to deal with watching Five Feet Apart (2019).
Originally planned for a cinematic release, The Lovebirds (2020) dropped on Netflix this weekend just gone, for reasons I’m sure I don’t need to explain. So, at the very least, we get to have a date night at home and watch a movie that will either please both of us, or work so hard at pleasing both we’ll both hate it.
It’s a gamble.
It’s honestly very impressive the way the film handles the race card. I mean, it has to be addressed: they’re an interracial couple, and the whole plot only exists because they’re an interracial couple, but at no point do characters stop and say, “Hey, you’re Pakistani and you’re African American, ain’t that weird?” The film somehow completely bathes itself in this fact, but never draws attention to it. It normalises it, but doesn’t ignore it, which is super refreshing.
Pictured: Racial profiling.
At the same time, it handles a lot of issues that long term couples face in a really down to earth way.
You know, down to earth for a comedy about murder.
The way the characters discuss their feelings is so natural and realistic, even when they’re discussing the intricacies of planning orgies. All of this makes watching the film so much more rewarding. It makes you really think about how sometimes, when you’ve been in a long-term relationship, you just need a murder thrust into your life to put things into perspective.
Date Night (2010) came out ten years ago, but I guess that’s more time than between Spider-Man reboots, so we should be all good. A lot of people compare Date Night (2010) to Game Night (2018), which I think is completely unfair. The comparisons here, however, are far more valid.
Following a fighting couple, Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae), as they break up on the way to a dinner party, and then as they have their night ruined by getting wrapped up in a murder plot. Yeah, sorry if that’s a spoiler… I don’t know why the trailer acts like they’re all lovey dovey; they literally break up in the first ten minutes…
Pictured: Not exactly the lovey doveyness from the trailer.
It’s a fun enough story as they run from set piece to set piece spouting funny dialogue at each other, but it’s hard not to think, “Why don’t you just stop?” The fact that they’re people of colour is the only real reason they keep going, which makes sense... But when the film itself stops to tell you that they are being stupid, you can’t help but agree.
The script also suffers from rather weak set ups and pay offs. Rather than feeling like something being set up and inevitably building up to something really important, it feels more like an important plot point is just a call back to a previously told silly joke. Early in the film, Kumail goes off on a rant about one thing or another, and that thing happens to be important later on, but the fact that they mention it early is only important to the conclusion one time.
I love mid-budget action films, but to stand out, you REALLY need to stand out. Game Night (2018) is a great example of utilising a $39 million budget to the best of its ability and getting incredibly creative with cinematography and editing. Michael Showalter is a totally competent director, but nothing stood out as, “Wow”. It's just a totally fine looking action film.
The casting on the other hand is where this film really shines. Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani have such great chemistry I was surprised she wasn’t cast in The Big Sick (2017) as Kumail’s wife. I’ve never seen any of her previous work, but Issa Rae in particular stands out; not only comedically, but as an amazing actress as well. I could watch a thousand movies starring these two.
Make them the new Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor!
Pictured: My pitch for a See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989) remake.
The great thing about a romantic comedy thriller, is that you’ve got three genres to spread out across. If it’s not romantic enough, maybe it’s funny. Or if it’s not funny enough, at least there’s thrills. The problem is that it’s very rare that all three genres will be satisfied at any one time.
The comedy fell flat too often for me not to notice it, which is unfortunate, because when it is actually funny, it is very funny. The thriller aspects keep up until the third act, where it feels like all tension is gone and nothing is at stake... until suddenly the rug is pulled out from under you very effectively. Though, I genuinely think the relationship is handled the best, which makes sense from the director of The Big Sick (2017).
As a date movie, I gotta say, I’m most upset that it wasn’t released in cinemas. So maybe turn off the lights, get some over-priced popcorn and drinks, stick an arm rest between you and your loved one, and bring the cinema experience home while watching this one.