How Netflix is selling a comedy originally meant for theaters.
20 years ago, when The Lovebirds was still intended for theatrical release by Paramount, the movie was tracking for a $10-15 million opening weekend. That was decent, if not spectacular, and was due in large part because star Kumail Nanjiani was pretty popular with audiences.
Now, the movie is headed straight to Netflix but retains its appeal.
The story is a familiar one: Jibran (Nanjiani) and his girlfriend Leilani (Issa Rae) are very much in love when they find themselves in the middle of what appears to be a murder investigation. Afraid they will be suspects but with no evidence of their innocence, they set out on their own in an attempt to clear their names so they can get back to their lives. Of course that doesn’t go nearly as well as they hope or expect it will.
Michael Showalter directed the film, which hasn’t undergone much (if any) change in direction in its marketing despite the change, still hoping to lure audiences with a collection of ridiculous situations being faced by otherwise normal characters.
There was just one poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications) released in January that shows Jibran and Leilani sitting in the middle of a chaotic New Orleans street looking disheveled and exhausted from whatever it is they’ve been in the middle of. Various elements of the plot are hinted at through elements in the background, including a horse, a car with a broken window and more.
That one-sheet still carries the movie’s original April release date for theaters and while there doesn’t seem to have been an updated poster publicly released Netflix did put out a promo image using the same design.
Jibran and Leilani are, January’s first trailer (3.3 million views on YouTube) shows us, a very happy couple. Things get weird when a man claiming to be a police officer commandeers their car to chase down and then run over – repeatedly – someone he says is a criminal. They realize, after running from the scene, they’re probably wanted for murder at that point but fear going to the police will not turn out well given they’re both brown people. So they set out to investigate for themselves to clear their name, something they’re not qualified to do and which therefore results in hilarity.
The same trailer (562,000 views on YouTube) was released by Netflix in April when it acquired the film.
Online and Social
No website as usual for Netflix’s films, but there were social media profiles, including a Twitter account that was active until right after the distributor change.
Advertising and Promotions
At about the same time the trailer was unveiled the news came the movie would premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. Those plans, including an appearance by the stars, were shut down when the festival was cancelled due to the Covid-19 coronavirus situation.
A TV spot that aired in February had Nanjiani and Rae having the idea of faking online romance explained to them by Dean Unglert, Jared Haibon and Ashley Iaconetti from “The Bachelor,” all of whom insisted what you see on screen is very real.
Paramount took advantage of Giphy’s Stories format to create “How To Find Your Lovebird,” a series of GIFs on #SinglesAwarenessDay featuring the stars sharing tips on how to get your crush to notice you.
Another short TV commercial-esque spot came out in March that shows some of the hijinks the couple get into as they try to prove their innocence.
Eventually the movie was one of a number of releases pulled from the schedule by Paramount and other studios. Not long after that it was announced the studio had signed a deal with Netflix for the movie to premiere there. That announcement came in the form of a filmed video chat between Nanjiani and Rae where they shared their excitement over the change.
Media and Press
A first look photo was released in early January, just before the trailer debuted.
The story itself looks like something that’s been done before, but the promise laid out in the campaign is that there are enough unique twists here that, combined with the attraction of the leads, What’s on display here is a fun, fast-paced comedy with lots of ridiculousness as the situations the characters find themselves in just keep getting more and more outlandish.
What’s surprising is that there wasn’t more of a pivot on display given the Paramount/Netflix shift. The campaign is entertaining, but Netflix decided to continue on exactly as before when they took the reins, not doing much more with the effort to gain additional attention and interest, instead largely relying on whatever momentum the marketing had accumulated up to that point.
Picking Up The Spare
More from Nanjiani here when he appeared on “Late Night.”
Online ads like this began running as the movie was about to hit Netflix.