The surprising wealth of new releases during this pandemic continued this past weekend.

Well, one of the movies I watched this time around was from last week, but all in all things aren’t too bad for people trying to find new things to watch. Especially considering the circumstances.

This time around we’ve got a comedy featuring a dysfunctional couple who suddenly find themselves falsely accused of murder, and the true story of an American actress who becomes the target of an FBI surveillance campaign after supporting civil rights activists.

Let’s get to the reviews.

***

The Lovebirds

First up is “The Lovebirds.”

On the verge of breaking up, Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae) experience a defining moment in their relationship when they are unintentionally embroiled in a murder mystery.

As their journey to clear their names takes them from one extreme circumstance to the next, they must figure out how they, and their relationship, can survive the night.

Back when movie theaters were open, which almost feels like an eternity ago at this point, it seemed like there was always at least one trailer for an upcoming film that would annoy me to no end every time it showed up on screen.

I’ve talked about this before in my review of “Like a Boss,” a film which ended up perfectly matching my low expectations set by the trailers.

Though there are exceptions, usually the previews I find most aggravating are for comedies, and they’re typically ones that attempt to show as many loud and obnoxious scenes as humanly possible.

As you might have guessed, “The Lovebirds” had one of those trailers.

Everytime the preview for this film came on, which seemed like every other screening, I would just lean back, close my eyes, and pray for it to end quickly. I certainly wasn’t looking forward to April 3, the date this movie was originally set to open in theaters.

Then of course COVID-19 happened, and nearly every scheduled release date was thrown out the window. But instead of delaying “The Lovebirds,” or even releasing it to rent on video-on-demand, Paramount decided to cut their losses and sell the film straight to Netflix.

This isn’t the first time Paramount has sold one of their movies off to Netflix. In fact, the two companies have a good working relationship together.

Though in the past it has implied Paramount’s lack of faith in a project. Such as “The Cloverfield Paradox,” a sci-fi horror film which released in 2018 to dreadful reviews.

All this combined, it’s safe to say I had fairly low expectations going into this movie.

I assumed Paramount had taken their garbage and dumped it off on Netflix once again.

Turns out I was wrong. Or at least I wasn’t entirely right.

While not an incredible comedy, this movie didn’t end up being all that bad.

Much of this is due to the film’s two main characters played by Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae.

The pair of actors have great chemistry together and their relationship issues aren’t just played up for laughs.

In between the movie’s more ridiculous moments, the film often slows down for a scene and lets the two of them talk out their issues, showing the audience who Jibran and Leilani are as people. These were easily some of my favorite moments in the movie.

I was also a bit surprised by the quality of the comedic writing here, especially jokes regarding issues between law enforcement and minorities.

These lines weren’t the most insightful racial commentary I’ve seen in film by a long shot, but they did make me laugh. And for a comedy, I guess that’s all that really matters.

Naturally there still are a number of over-the-top comedic bits and there’s also a fair amount of crude humor. The trailers didn’t invent them out of nowhere after all. 

And though the loud and obnoxious moments from the trailers are still here, many of those same scenes ended up coming across a little more serious in the final product, setting a slightly darker tone for the overall film.

This slight change in how these scenes were edited made the film’s comedy much more palatable to me. Of course your mileage may vary. Everyone’s sense of humor is different.

Sadly, though the comedy here was noticeably better than I expected, the overall story didn’t have much going for it.

Jibran and Leilani are basically led by the nose through this “mystery.” They happen upon a clue, go to the exact location the clue told them to go, have a little comedic bit, and happen upon another clue telling them the next location to run off too. Rinse and repeat.

This is definitely a comedy first, a relationship movie second, and a mystery third. Don’t expect anything too intriguing. The mystery aspect is just a framework for the comedy and relationship stuff to happen.

But despite any of the movie’s shortcomings, I ended up enjoying the overall experience pretty well.

I imagine if you go into this movie with the same rock bottom expectations as I did, you’ll probably have a fairly good time. As far as comedies go, you can definitely do worse.

“The Lovebirds” is rated R.

***

Seberg

The other film this week is “Seberg.”

Inspired by true events, this film follows Jean Seberg (Kristen Stewart), an actress who was targeted in the late 1960s by the FBI due to her support of the civil rights movement and romantic involvement with Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie), among others.

Caught in a campaign of overreaching surveillance and harassment, Seberg’s life, career, and mental health is destroyed in an effort to suppress and discredit her activism.

This is a film I’ve been interested in watching for quite some time.

Though it did receive a limited theatrical release back in late February of this year, it never managed to arrive at any theater I was willing to drive out to.

But when I saw “Seberg” show up in Amazon’s Prime Video library, I knew I had to check it out.

Why, you might ask? Well one reason is Kristen Stewart.

As an actress I think she’s gotten far more than her fair share of criticism leveled at her performances.

Of course Stewart is best known for starring as Bella Swan in the film adaptations of the  “Twilight” series. Movies that I don’t necessarily hold in high regard, yet also receive far more vitriol than they deserve.

If you think “Twilight” and its sequels are some of the worst movies ever made, you don’t watch enough movies. The outright hatred I’ve seen leveled at this franchise over the years is pretty obscene. Especially the ridiculously overly harsh criticism leveled at the performers themselves.

I’m glad to see the stars of “Twilight” go on and further their careers in stronger, more character focused roles.

Not only Kristen Stewart, but also her vampire co-star Robert Pattinson, who has been knocking it out of the park in movie after movie recently.

But back to Stewart, I’m happy to say she plays the role of Jean Seberg quite well here.

Though she doesn’t do a direct impersonation of French New Wave actress, she definitely captures the demeanor of a woman slowly being mentially unraveled by the effects of being under constant surveillance by the federal government.

I do wish she had managed to disappear into the performance a bit more though. As it is, Stewart doesn’t come across as markedly different in this film compared to her other recent roles.

This is something easily forgiven while playing a fictional character, but it’s far more glaring when portraying a well documented historical figure.

Still, I found her performance to be one of the main highlights of the film. Especially towards the end, when the effects of the FBI’s flagrant harassment come to a head.

As someone who was largely unaware of Jean Seberg’s life or career before this film, it really is shocking to see the lengths a federal agency was willing to go to defame a U.S. citizen.

It was sickening to watch, though sadly not all that surprising considering what I already knew of the government’s actions during the civil rights movement.

However, this does bring me to my biggest issue with the movie. Because while I do appreciate being introduced to this story and seeing it come to life, the filmmakers here made a very odd and frankly confounding decision on how best to tell this story.

Instead of mainly focusing on Seberg or even other champions of the civil rights movement, the movie instead devotes a substantial amount of screentime showing the moral struggles of an FBI agent named Jack Solomon (Jack O’Connell).

Jack is a completely fictional character, who, in the film, is one of the many agents assigned to spy on Jean.

The movie devotes an enormous time to Jack’s character, his relationship with his wife (Margaret Qualley), and the moral struggles that come with prying into the personal life of an innocent woman.

None of which I remotely care about.

Frankly, I don’t give a hoot about the emotional toll dealt to federal agents who made a career out of destroying the life of Jean Seberg and others like her. Especially ones that didn’t exist.

Why devote half the runtime of a movie about Seberg to the person investigating her? Why make one of the people responsible for ruining her life sympathetic?

What’s the goal here? To show that not all FBI agents are bad? Because there’s a place for that in other movies. It certainly doesn’t belong in a film meant to show the devastation of their actions. At least not to this degree.

You could almost argue that Jack is more the main character here over even Jean herself. He certainly has more of a story arc. Which, again, is really odd in a movie titled “Seberg.”

Look, if you’re gonna make a movie about Jean Seberg, make a movie about Jean Seberg. This isn’t cable news. You don’t need to give equal time to both sides of the issue.

The worst part is this movie only scratches the surface of the FBI’s COINTELPRO surveillance program. There are so many more abhorrent things the film could have chosen to touch on. After all, it went on for 15 years.

But instead the filmmakers decided to fill their movie’s runtime with the fictional tale of a morally conflicted FBI agent.

It really is a shame.

I am glad I watched this movie. There’s no telling when, or even if, I would have heard about the FBI’s surveillance of Jean Seberg otherwise.

But despite solid performances, this film simply doesn’t do justice to Jean’s legacy.

“Seberg” is rated R.

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