Quick Reviews: 'The Lovebirds', 'Downhill' | Kumail Nanjiani, Issa Rae, Dark Comedy, Will Ferrell
During times when romantic comedies are less and less common in theatres, it’s a bit sad to see one of the rare ones having to skip that release tactic completely due to unforeseen difficulties. The Lovebirds from director Michael Showalter is on one hand very much tied to the genre but on another, the casting of its leads (Issa Rae, Kumail Nanjiani) is fresh. This romcom eventually found its way to Netflix which is lacking this level of talent and production in its originals so maybe something good came out of it after all. Whereas the story might be a bit too silly and uninspired, the movie gets up to speed thanks to lovely performances and direction.
Rae and Nanjiani as Leilani and Jibran, respectively, are ultimately the reason to stay with it. In the first scene we see the characters seeing each other for the first time and then we skip to a few years later when they have conflicts and bickering going on. Usually the expectation is to follow the happiness for a while until a conflict arises so it’s nice to see that structure shaken up a bit. Rae and Nanjiani have good comedic chemistry between them which makes up for the less romantic vibes, their characters get to riff off of each other which is quite fun to watch. Casting them both in this along with some strong supporting cast members was a wise decision.
The story itself is fairly sugarcoated to the point that it doesn’t really pick a good ending spot where it all would wrap up nicely. There’s a bad guy who’s efficient and silent until the plot requires him not to be and there’s a secret society which seems threatening but isn’t all that important later. For Leilani and Jibran it picks some small spots for relationship evaluation but not enough for where they ultimately end up. The film seems to get a little too distracted with locations and side quests (which I guess ties into a boring spoof about The Amazing Race) that it slightly forgets that we started with just two people who worked off each other really well.
Smileys: Issa Rae, Kumail Nanjiani, casting
Frowneys: Story, ending
Under 90 minutes thankfully, any more would’ve been stretching it too thin.
Up for an American studio remake of well received European indie dramedy? I doubt it since no one ever asks for them. Director duo Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s Downhill is a new take on Ruben Östlund’s 'Force Majeure', which for the sake of this review, I have not seen (but would much prefer based on what I saw). What I gathered though was that the runtime is significantly shorter and there are some new elements along with the star power of Julia Louis-Dreyfus (as Billie) and Will Ferrell (Pete). The key here is the short runtime which is very much why a lot of the film’s scenes don’t work.
Something to start with is that Downhill is decent enough in its entirety. It sets up the characters, introduces the conflict early and it’s all shot very well which from what I understand is pretty close to the original style. Louis-Dreyfus and Ferrell do work hard with what they’re given and at points Louis-Dreyfus carries scenes on her back all by herself. There’s a part where Billie is having a ”solo day” which actually hits all the notes that the movie is trying to hit, from silences to character decisions. Unfortunately even that sequence ends in a typical American comedy cliche. Ferrell’s Pete gets a boys’ night out which has great awkwardness at one point, that also ends in American melodrama and overacting.
This all is where the film misses the mark. It is so afraid of the European style which got Force Majeure its praise and instead replaces all of that with all too common American physicality and rhythm. That straight up kills scenes. Directorial choices of Naxon and Rash don’t utilise the silence or dryness that the story relies on which is such a shame because then the comedy doesn’t have any time to land. Only times it’s kind of showing is whenever Miranda Otto’s character Charlotte is on the screen, her spontaneity is fun and provides a different tone. The two main stars’ characters don’t do that, Pete especially gets no retrospection on how his masculinity evolves.
Smileys: Miranda Otto
Frowneys: Pacing, originality
Maybe just don’t remake stuff that you don’t seem to understand.