A long time ago, in what seems like a land far, far away, I used to write movie reviews. I’d sit in a movie theater, eat some popcorn, let a larger-than-life film wash over me (or unpleasantly soak me, depending on its quality), and then a day or two later would write about what the movie was like and what I thought about it. How lucky I was, to have that time. Now, it’s unknown when movie theaters will reopen, or when you or I might feel comfortable going to them, or when and if regular movie reviews will return. We’ll have to float in the between-time, and wait and see.
In the meantime, seeing movies at home remains an option, though the screen’s not as big and the interruptions are frequent. Many new movies are moving to straight-to-streaming releases — including, this week, two movies that I thought I’d be seeing in theaters this spring. “The Lovebirds,” a caper comedy starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae, was scheduled to open in theaters in April; instead, it’s popping up on Netflix on Friday, May 22.
“The Lovebirds” looked promising: Its director, Michael Showalter, previously directed Nanjiani in “The Big Sick,” one of my favorite movies of 2017, and its premise — a New Orleans couple on the verge of breaking up gets unwittingly caught up in a murder mystery — sounded like potentially good popcorn entertainment. And it is, pretty much, just that. Nanjiani and Rae (TV’s “Insecure”), as Jibran and Leilani, have a funny, deft chemistry as they make their way through an evening one of them describes as “like ‘The Amazing Race,’ but with dead people.”
It’s comedy with an edge — this couple, because of their dark skin, knows that going to the police won’t necessarily go well for them, and the screenplay plays with that tension. (At one point, a cop drives by slowly and glares at the couple, who are panicking as they fear arrest, but moves on. “Oh, he’s just a regular racist!” says a relieved Jibran.) “The Lovebirds” is a quick 87 minutes, and blessedly so (you sense the crime story wouldn’t hold up much longer), and it would probably be a lot more fun in a theater full of laughing people. But I laughed, by myself in the living room, at Jibran and Leilani’s bickering (at one point, he tries a door that she’s already found locked, causing her to reply caustically, “Did you think it was one of those men-only doors?”). They were, for as long as they needed to be, good company.
Also good company: Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan, who reunited a fourth time for “The Trip to Greece” (streaming Friday, May 22, on multiple outlets, including Comcast, Amazon, iTunes and YouTube). The “Trip” movies, one of filmdom’s most curious yet delightful franchises, are essentially two-man comic travelogues in which Brydon and Coogan go on holiday (to rural England, Italy, Spain and now Greece), eat delicious meals, stay in lovely hotels, gawk at the scenery and do impressions. (The “We rise at daybreak” bit in “The Trip” is a classic, as are the series’ myriad Michael Caine impressions.) The films aren’t documentaries — the two are playing fictional versions of themselves — but they have a loose, casual feel.
This installment, which longtime director Michael Winterbottom says is the final one, feels poignant, as any film featuring sparkling lakes and stunning tourist vistas might: Who knew, when they shot the film last year, that travel would be something that we would just watch on a screen? As Brydon and Coogan follow the steps of Odysseus, traveling from Troy to Ithaca, they treat us to a few impressions (Tom Hardy as Bane doing Stan Hardy was my favorite) and to Brydon’s uncanny knowledge of Bee Gees lyrics. But this film feels deeper than the previous three, quietly closing a door. By its bittersweet end, we’re reminded that home — for the ancient Greeks, as for us — often isn’t a place but a person, and that as we grow older, journeys become more precious, as we don’t know when we’ll ever return.