Netflix’s latest rom-com offering, The Lovebirds, was supposed to hit theaters on April 3 but was pushed to streaming once movie theaters became temporarily obsolete. Featuring Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani as a couple whose breakup is thwarted by their witnessing a murder on the way to a dinner party, it’s a fun, light-hearted romp that dispenses with much of the romance in favor of a larger, more pressing event.
At the start of the movie, Leilani (Rae) and Jibran (Nanijiani) have moved past the meet-cute phase and are clearly suffering from the myriad ways a relationship can atrophy over time—petty bullshit quirks that were initially “cute” are now triggers for resentment, hate, and distrust. As they break up in the car on their way to a dinner party, they hit a bicyclist who flees the scene and sets into motion an action-comedy that just happens to feature a couple in the throes of a breakup as its two bumbling leads.
Rae and Nanjiani are funny actors in their own right but, together, they have comfortable chemistry; and as a couple, they’re able to navigate around a sudden criminal incident without killing anyone else or each other—a small victory that highlights the real strength of this movie which is not their love story but the madcap adventure that finds them on the run from a crime they didn’t commit.
This type of scenario—pitting romantic leads against larger forces of nature like natural disasters or kooky comedies of error—happens far too infrequently in romantic comedies. What comes to mind is the 2005 film Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which brought Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt together as fictional lovers who were also spies, as part of a convoluted plot about bounty killing that’s more compelling than yet another story about marriage or a relationship on the rocks. Throwing a couple into a situation that is largely out of their control forces them to work together in ways that will test the strength of their union. This isn’t some kind of ingenious plot device, of course—Rae and Nanjiani banding together because they need each other for survival is expected—but the moments of familiarity that burble up as their situation becomes increasingly tenuous and untenable makes the drama both genuine and real, and it happens through a relationship that is aspirational even as it is in a state of freefall.
It’s not that the dissolution of a fictional relationship isn’t fulfilling or interesting to watch either, but the rom-com genre needs a little shake-up now and again. Solving a crime or murder together is a good bonding experience, like a real-life Escape the Room situation, but with survival—and love, maybe—as the prize.