When the movies go to us

How Netflix’s ‘The Lovebirds’ could change the film industry

3 minute read
Great comedic chemistry: Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani in ‘The Lovebirds.’ (Image courtesy of Netflix.)
Great comedic chemistry: Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani in ‘The Lovebirds.’ (Image courtesy of Netflix.)

Director Michael Showalter’s The Lovebirds, starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae, premiered on Netflix on April 24 with modest success, trending within the site’s top 10 titles immediately following its release before dropping off the trending list just two weeks later.

Watch for the actors

Rae and Nanjiani play Leilani and Jibran, a couple whose relationship is on the outs. When they accidentally find themselves implicated in a murder and unwittingly involved in a shocking conspiracy, Leilani and Jibran go on the run. The high-stress situation puts their formerly close relationship to the test as they clumsily try to confront the real bad guys and clear their names.

The stars have great comedic chemistry, with Rae and Nanjiani hilariously bickering their way through the various conflicts their characters face. However, any merit this film has rests entirely on the lead actors’ talent and not on the storytelling itself. Little effort appears to have been dedicated to making this film a particularly scintillating murder-mystery, and the film’s most interesting scenes are spoiled in the official trailer.

While Rae and Nanjiani, respectively a Black woman and a Pakistani man, make witty jibes about policing in America and the undignified trend of racial profiling, their one-liners don't hold enough weight to shift the film toward meaningful social commentary. Comedy fans will find The Lovebirds to be a fun, easy watch; viewers looking for a story to keep them on the edge of their seats (or couches) will want to look elsewhere.

A landmark shift

However insignificant The Lovebirds may be as a standalone narrative, the film’s release on a streaming platform represents a landmark shift in the film industry. Initially set to premiere at SXSW in March, the movie was highly anticipated. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, The Lovebirds and other films meant to premiere on the big screen in the past few months have had to find alternative homes.

Trolls World Tour is a notable example: Universal opted to release the latest installment of its hit franchise on Amazon Prime. It was a massive success, raking in $50 million in their opening weekend. While $50 million isn’t necessarily record shattering compared with the typical revenues of a theatrical release, it's still a worthwhile stragegy for studios, which can pocket a larger portion of the profits for streamed releases. (Studios are limited to 50 percent of theatrical release profits.) NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shells has suggested that once theaters reopen, all new Universal films will release to streaming services and theaters simultaneously.

This announcement feels like a critical hit to the movie-theater industry, which has already been in steady decline as streaming becomes more prominent. Putting streaming services in direct competition with theaters showing new releases could be disastrous for even the biggest chains—a major offense in the ongoing “streaming wars.” That’s why major theater chains around the world have threatened to ban all Universal films from their screens. In fact, AMC, which owns more than 1,000 theaters, has officially cut ties with the studio juggernaut.

How will we see movies?

Perhaps—or at least, this reviewer hopes—the film industry won’t transform completely; there are still cinephiles among us who couldn’t imagine seeing new films anywhere but a theater. But for parents with young kids, the ease of renting the next Frozen for one payment of $20 may present a much more appealing alternative to an expensive trip to a crowded multiplex on opening weekend.

However, exclusive releases on monthly subscription services like Netflix or Disney+ could present more of a challenge for movie lovers trying to get their fix. While theaters make studio films accessible to anyone willing to pay a one-time price, subscription services enforce a recurring paywall before viewers can engage with their content. With streaming services continuing to take over the film and television industries, recent releases like The Lovebirds are leaving an unprecedented impact which could completely change the way we see movies.

What, When, Where

The Lovebirds is currently available to stream on Netflix.

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