One of the many adjustments from the COVID-19 shutdowns is that several theatrical releases from major studios were sold/moved to streamers. NEON’s Palm Springs went to Hulu, Paramount’s Coming 2 America went to Amazon, Sony’s An American Pickle went to HBO Max, Disney took advantage of Disney+ by creating a premium tier to purchase new releases like Mulan, and, of course, the big one, all of the 2021 Warner Bros. Pictures theatrical slate is going day/date to HBO Max for 31 days from theatrical release for any subscriber with the ad-free tier. Surviving meant upending a lot of the rules prior to the pandemic and many don’t seem to be changing up again all that much, even as things slowly open up, as a deal was struck to reduce the previous window of roughly three months between theatrical and home release to closer to 45 days. The surprises, it seems, keep coming, as one such film sold by Paramount to Netflix is getting the home release treatment over a year after it premiered on the streamer. That’s right, the Issa Rae/Kumail Nanjiani-led romantic comedy The Lovebirds is getting a Blu-ray, DVD, and digital release, care of Paramount, complete with an unrated extended cut and bonus features.
If you want a spoiler-free experience, I recommend heading over to the initial Netflix premiere review. If you’ve seen the film or don’t care to get into some details, well, baby, you’re a firework.
After four years, Leilani (Rae, The Photograph) and Jibran (Nanjiani, upcoming Eternals) have traded loving moments for passive aggressive comments and have been going through the motions. On the way to a dinner party with friends, their latest disagreement snowballs into the larger realization that their lack of communication has created a widening gulf between them they knew was there but tried hard to deny. As the realization hits them, they hit a bicyclist with their car. To make matters worse, the bike-on-car collision turns into a car chase when a police officer demands the use of their vehicle to run down the cyclist who fled the accident scene in a hurry, ultimately resulting in the death of the cyclist. Terrified that the authorities will blame the duo for everything, Leilani convinces Jibran that they need to solve the crime in order to clear their names. With their freedom on the line, can the former lovers learn to communicate before they go to jail or worse?
Having not watched The Lovebirds since my initial screening in 2020, a return to it was more than a little welcome. Rewatching something intrinsically means I don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen to the characters because I know, even if I don’t remember each specific detail, that there’s even less stress in this low-intensity “one crazy night” romantic comedy than before. That in of itself is welcome after a year of mounting stressors globally and personally. It also permits a viewing with a differing lens for examination. I touched on this somewhat in the spoiler-free review, how the script from Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall (NBC’s Blindspot) utilizes a very real concern of police brutality and law enforcement dehumanization among the BIPOC community as the jumping off point for the attempted hilarity which follows. Yes, Jibran does suggest that the two should call the cops and turn themselves in, but there’s no film if that happens. Instead, the two engage in a discussion of what it would likely look like if they do, resulting in Leilani pantomiming an officer beating Jibran for his ridiculous sounding explanation of “yes, we hit the cyclist with our car, but we got car jacked by someone claiming to be a police officer who actually killed the cyclist.”
The fact that the audience, Leilani, and Jibran find out at the same time that the pair were never actually in any danger with the police thanks to traffic cameras capturing their carjacking and the subsequent incident, is both a relief and a sign that there is no story if they had gone to the police. Or, at the very least, no story where they got to walk away alive seeing as the film ends with them in a fight for their lives with a corrupt cop and their only hope is their renewed communication. Thinking about it in that way, this film would’ve had a truly dark, and perhaps more realistic, ending had Jibran’s notion been treating more seriously. There is a saying among humorist that “tragedy plus time equals comedy” and that is especially true here. All around the edges of The Lovebirds is a heightened reality which allows Jibran to survive a double-horse-hoof kick to the chest (something which kills in John Wick 3 (2019) and would undoubtedly do the same in reality) among other things, allows both of them to just barely avoid being murdered by the carjacker cop, and lets them lie their way into a secret club for the elite a la Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Yet, just on the fringes of the madcap antics and tomfoolery the two find themselves in, is the real danger of the police, not because of what they know they didn’t do, but because that the truth won’t matter. Herein lies the tragedy mined for comedy. If there’s anything this last year has proven to be true, the lives of minorities don’t seem to possess value to law enforcement. The fact that The Lovebirds toys with this and it never once feels disingenuous in the process is a testament to the script and performers.
For all the darkness on the edges, there’s plenty of comedy within the home release. For one, the extended The Lovebirds has about seven minutes of new footage, including estate security cops trying to detain Leilani and Jibran after they escape Edie and Brett’s place (Anna Camp and Kyle Bornheimer). Outside of this one sequence, I couldn’t readily identify anything new in scenes or language with roughly a year between viewings. Nothing felt out of place or unnecessarily added, so folks deciding which one is ideal for a first-time watch would likely be fine opting for either version. The rest of the bonus features are fairly standard, but do allow the audience to get some additional evidence of the on-screen chemistry between Rae and Nanjiani thanks to featurette “The Art of Compromise with Issa & Kumail” which offers a glimpse behind the scenes of shooting. This includes hearing from the two actors about how they bonded ahead of shooting and how director Michael Showalter (The Big Sick) allowed them to play with the dialogue to make it more real in the moment or for the characters as each actor sees them. While “The Lovebirds Quiz” and “Lovebirds on the Spot” feel more like theatrical prerelease marketing tacked on to the home release, the gag reel and “Line-O-Rama” featurettes offer an insider’s look at the silliness on set, as well as the varying lines and line deliveries throughout the film. While not exactly a treasure trove of delights, there’s some good stuff here that builds off the one major strength of the film: more time with Rae and Nanjiani.
The Lovebirds doesn’t break new ground with its script and is barely more of a critical hit than a general audience one based on current Rotten Tomatoes info, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fine entertainment to just enjoy. I mean, sure, there some ideas within it about how screwed up the judicial system is regarding its treatment of minorities and therefore the innocent can’t entirely trust the authorities to help them when they’re innocent for fear of perception of guilt because of a trumped-up warrior complex within the people who wear the badge. Ok, so there are a lot of those ideas, which is particularly why I think it’s brilliant that the truly messed up people (cabal members, blackmailers, corrupt cops) are primarily Caucasian and the good guys (lead detective, a couple cops) include minorities. To be fair, the film takes place in New Orleans, so a visible lack of Black officers would be strange, but I think it speaks to the moral compass of the film, a film which features a Black woman and a Pakistani man as the leads, that all the bad guys are White. After decades of minorities being given the short shrift, a “one crazy night” comedy that flips it up a bit is, by itself, refreshing.
The Lovebirds Bonus Features
- Theatrical Release (1:27:12)
- Uncut Extended Release (1:34:28)
- Two (2) Deleted Scenes (5:24)
- Gag Reel (3:00)
- Line-O-Rama (6:02)
- The Art of Compromise with Issa & Kumail (3:29)
- The Lovebirds Quiz (2:37)
- Lovebirds on the Spot (2:18)
Stream the theatrical edition on Netflix beginning May 22nd, 2021.
Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital June 8th, 2021.