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Schultz reviews: 'The Lovebirds' and 'Wind River'

Schultz reviews: 'The Lovebirds' and 'Wind River'

Carl Schultz

“The Lovebirds” Distributed by Paramount Pictures and Netflix, 87 Minutes, Rated R, Released May 22, 2020:

 

Toward the end of “The Lovebirds,” the new movie from Paramount Pictures currently streaming on Netflix, a peripheral character looks at the title duo played by Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani and tells them, “You’re a really nice couple...but you’re annoying as hell.”  And that line of dialogue ironically sums up not only the picture’s plotline, but also most of its problems.

 

In “The Lovebirds,” a New Orleans couple four years into a romantic relationship is on the cusp of a breakup.  While driving to their friends’ home for a social gathering, their car is hijacked and used as a weapon in an organized crime-like murder, with the killer effectively framing the couple for the crime.  In a panic, the man and woman make a run for it, and go underground in an effort to prove their own innocence and solve the crime.

 

After a promising beginning, in which the first meeting of the title couple is shown in flashback, plot holes, inconsistencies and the lack of a coherent narrative begin to plague “The Lovebirds.”  The couple’s bickering which is intended to illustrate the reasons behind their imminent breakup is not all that different from the couple’s interaction during their first date, which was meant to show their rapport.  As a result, the viewer never quite has an accurate picture of the source of their emotional difficulties.

 

And that’s just the beginning.  After their car is hijacked and the couple is implicated in a particularly brutal murder, all logic and coherence seem to go out the window,  Writers Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall should’ve attended a crash course in Crime Thriller 101--the sum of the mystery central to the movie’s plot is plainly not a total of its parts.  Soon, all that’s left are non-sequiturs, mixed metaphors, and tired puns which are presumably meant to be funny, but aren’t.

 

Directed by Michael Showalter, who also collaborated with Nanjiani on the superb comedy/drama“The Big Sick” in 2017, the new picture would be more agreeable viewing if Showalter and company gave the audience more of an idea of the movie’s intentions.  But in a picture that travels paths which seem to spontaneously switch destinations and tries to wring laughter from unfunny situations, it’s tough to determine for sure the filmmakers want from us.  Part satire, part mystery, and part romance, “The Lovebirds” is neither fish nor fowl--it contains elements of all, but answers to none.  

 

You can’t fault the performances...at least not entirely.  Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani are two of the most engaging and charismatic performers currently toiling in show business.  Also listed in the credits as co-producers of “The Lovebirds” (along with writers Abrams and Gall and director Showalter), both Rae and Nanjiani must surely have known before a frame of film was exposed what they were getting into with the picture.  But the real trouble isn't the actors--it’s the roles the writers have created for them. 

 

With her enormous, expressive eyes and luminescent smile, Issa Rae as Leilani continues her campaign to capture every heart in America.  A gifted performer in all genres, Rae has made significant contributions to the drama “The Hate U Give” in 2018, the comedy “Little” in 2019, and the romance “The Photograph” in 2020.  With a persona reminiscent of Mary Tyler Moore’s during another era, Rae is simultaneously sweet, funny, and sexy, with an ability to stage a pratfall as deftly as Lucille Ball or Carol Burnett.  For Issa Rae, the secret of success seems to be to cover all the bases.

 

With a title couple described more than once in the picture as annoying, Kumail Nanjiani as documentary filmmaker Jibran is the more annoying of the two, by a substantial margin.  If the movie’s narrative is stringing together a series of crises, Nanjiani’s response to each new crisis is to spend the first few moments riffing on its comic possibilities.  As an actor, Nanjiani is a great comedian.  You can’t blame him--Woody Allen began his motion picture career doing essentially the same thing.  The difference is that Allen’s observations were occasionally funny.

 

Still, “The Lovebirds” is earning respectable reviews from the critics, with Rotten Tomatoes reporting an approval rating of 66% against Metacritic’s weighted average of 58%.  Critic David Ehrlich of Indiewire is probably closer to the truth when he writes that “Michael Showalter’s follow-up to ‘The Big Sick’ is as flat and algorithmic as his last (picture) was poignant and alive.”  Ehrlich also notes that “Rae refuses to quit on the movie even after there’s no hope of redeeming it.”

 

Originally scheduled for a theatrical release by Paramount Pictures on April 03, “The Lovebirds” was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic and resulting worldwide closure of movie theaters.  Paramount sold distribution rights to the picture to Netflix, which began digital streaming of the picture online on May 22.

 

“The Lovebirds” is rated R for sexual content, language throughout, violence, and some nudity.

 

“Wind River” Distributed by TWC Pictures, 107 Minutes, Rated R, Released Aug. 4, 2017:

 

"Lyrical" is an accurate term to describe the superb drama "Wind River." "Poetic" and "haunting" are other appropriate terms for this genuinely moving little picture, which at the time of its original release in 2017 seemingly came out of nowhere to score heavily among critics and has since that time developed a strong following on DVD.

 

In "Wind River," a veteran officer with the Wyoming Fish and Wildlife Service while tracking a rogue mountain lion discovers in a remote wilderness location the body of a young woman, a Native American from the nearby Shoshone Indian Reservation who prior to her death appears to have been sexually assaulted.  Since the young woman’s body was found on federally-owned land, the crime falls into the jurisdiction of the FBI, and the federal bureau assigns to lead the investigation an inexperienced young agent from the Las Vegas field office.  

 

Unaccustomed to working among people unintimidated by authority, for whom arrest and imprisonment are little more than rites of passage, the callow young agent quickly conscripts the assistance of the Wildlife officer.  And as the veteran outdoorsman guides the rookie agent with his expertise as a tracker, he also uses the case as a means of seeking personal redemption for an act of irresponsibility which inadvertantly led to the murder of his own teenaged daughter a few years earlier.

 

"Wind River" benefits enormously from a quietly commanding performance from Jeremy Renner as Cory Lambert, the veteran Fish and Wildlife officer.  This is a role which is quintessentially American—a solitary man of quiet authority, living by an exacting moral agenda which might during another time have been called the Code of the West.  The strong, silent Lambert is a role which at one time might've been performed by Steve McQueen, or by Gary Cooper thirty years earlier, or by silent screen star William S. Hart thirty years before Cooper.  Renner and his performance are easily comparable with the legendary western stars of the past.

 

Elizabeth Olsen appears as Jane Banner, the rookie FBI agent in charge of the investigation into the young Native American woman’s murder.  The youngest sister of the once-popular Olsen Twins singing and acting partnership, Elizabeth Olsen has matured into a legitimately persuasive and talented performer on her own, with significant contributions to the 2011 dramatic thriller “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” the biographical picture “I Saw the Light” in 2015, and as the Scarlet Witch character in the enormously popular pictures in the Marvel Comics series.

 

In "Wind River," Olsen benefits greatly from a role with similarities to her own career as a novice actress--self-conscious and insecure among the veterans, canny and practical enough to request and rely upon the guidance of the seasoned pros.  Olsen's empathetic performance is both persuasive and uniquely effective--she’s one young performer who can genuinely act, literally with the best of them.

 

Veteran actor Graham Greene, also effective earlier in 2017 a small but pivotal role in the popular motion picture adaptation of William P. Young’s inspirational novel "The Shack" but still probably best known for his signature role as Lakota Chief Kicking Bird in the landmark 1990 western "Dances with Wolves," uses his sleepy eyes and relaxed, almost excessively-informal demeanor in “Wind River” to disguise a wise and wily Reservation sheriff, sharp and experienced despite a casual and even incompetent demeanor.

 

Greene, belying his authentic First Nations Native American heritage, has managed as an actor to mature into a sort of latter-day Robert Mitchum.  When Olsen's FBI agent suggests waiting for backup police reinforcements during a violent and dangerous confrontation, Greene as the Native American lawman patiently explains to her, "This isn’t the land of waiting for back-up, Jane--this is the land of ‘you’re on your own.’"  Greene’s bemused demeanor, like late-career Mitchum, is simultaneously reserved, rueful, and firm, but kindly, gentle, and even paternal.

 

Written and directed by the talented Taylor Sheridan, the writer of the critically-acclaimed action thriller "Sicario" from 2015 and the Academy Award-nominated "Hell or High Water" in 2016, "Wind River" doesn't miss a trick or leave a plot thread undeveloped.  Already an enormously talented writer, Sheridan with "Wind River" becomes a director of note, a talent to watch for in the future.

 

But "Wind River" belongs primarily to actor Jeremy Renner.  In an affecting performance as a decent, solitary man trying to do his best against apathy and emotional overwhelming odds, Renner’s performance is simultaneously empowering and heartbreaking.  Despite strong roles in the Academy Award-winning Best Picture "The Hurt Locker" from 2008, his Academy Award-nominated performance in 2010’s “The Town,” and his continuing appearances as Clint Barton/Hawkeye in the Marvel Comics “Avengers” pictures, Renner's contribution to “Wind River” is a signature, career-defining achievement..

 

At the end, Renner’s Lambert and the murdered woman’s Native American father sit side by side on the cold ground of the Wind River Reservation, two desolate men separated by heritage but united in unspoken heartbreak over their lost children.  One man turns to the other and plaintively says of his late daughter, “I need to sit here and miss her for a while--got time to sit with me?”  And the other man simply responds, “Oh, I ain’t going nowhere.”  It’s a powerful moment, a cathartic moment, evocative of our moral and emotional responsibilities as Americans to our friends, neighbors, and loved ones, regardless of our race or background.

 

But far from being a diatribe on Native American human rights or our often unconscionable slights against our own rich, colorful, and varied national heritage, "Wind River" is simply a classic American drama, based on a true story, about strong and conscientious individuals banding together and trying to work through their moral responsibilities with honor, dignity, and integrity.

 

Beautifully filmed on breathtaking Utah locations and financed in part by the Tunica-Biloxi Native American Tribe, “Wind River" is a motion picture which belongs in the DVD library of every fan of classic motion pictures, alongside “Stagecoach,” "The Searchers,” “High Noon”...and, yes, even "Dances with Wolves."  The picture’s final scene especially is elegant in its poignant beauty and relevance.  

 

A staple of the discount bins at WalMart and Best Buy, available for streaming on YouTube, Vudu, Google Play, and Amazon Prime, "Wind River" is recommended, highly and strongly.

 

“Wind River” is rated R for strong violence, a rape, disturbing images, and adult language.

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