It comes as no surprise to us that she’s a natural at it, though: Peg, a self-described hustler, had told us beforehand through a voiceover that “as a child, I became a student of money. While other kids begged for allowances, I studied profit margins."


The subversive character quirk in Buffaloed is that Peg was born simply loving cash and getting it quick. At the start of the movie, we see scenes from her childhood in which she’s selling smokes to high-schoolers from the backseat of her sedan at a few cents a pop in a parking lot. Later in life, she tries — and gets in trouble for — offering fake tickets for high prices in front of a baseball stadium. For Peg, there are no dreams to run something like a restaurant — that’s too much work. Until she has something of an epiphany at the end of the film, it doesn’t matter much how Peg makes gains. And she doesn’t want to make “fine money,” either, because in her eye, “fine is mediocrity’s dumb cousin.”


In the film, Peg, who’s based in Buffalo, N.Y., first works for the city’s lead debt collector, the sleazy Wizz (Jai Courtney), mostly to get herself out of the debts she’s incurred thanks to her illicit ventures. The deal: if she can collect the most debts out of Wizz’s entire staff — all sweaty men with discount haircuts — in the span of a month, hers will be cleared. Sure thing.


It's undeniable that her odds are good. Aside from being quick and efficient at her desk, stationed at Wizz's warehouse office, when one woman proves hard to budge over the phone, Peg takes the five-hour drive required to attempt to collect her debt in person. She brings cupcakes adorned with blue-raspberry-colored frosting to pillow her aggression. It works. Peg's enthusiasm doesn't stop here. Later, when Wizz unceremoniously but unsurprisingly rips her off when it’s time for him to deliver his part of her deal, Peg starts her own agency. This leads to a “war” with her former employer. 


Scenes in debt-collecting offices and the accompanying petty dramas, obsession with cash, have the same boiling-water vigor seen in 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street

Buffaloed is just smaller scale. And instead of featuring a lead performance as loud, braggadocious, and frequently unpleasant as Leonardo DiCaprio's, it has for itself a scrappier, easier-to-root-for one thanks to Deutch. The movie operates at a dangerously high pitch for such a long time that we worry it will ultimately be a fast and funny but shallow examination of a fledgling hustler. But then, toward the end of the film, a couple of emotional one-on-ones bring in some welcome humility. A good thing, since, most of the time, Buffaloed is like a mad dash — an animated short parodying the Wall Street milieu set in an everyday locale. After you've gotten to the top of something, you inevitably have to come down. Buffaloed gets this right.


The LovebirdsB


n Buffaloed (2020), which recently became available to rent online, the effervescent Zoey Deutch plays Peg Dahl, a young woman who, early in the movie, runs into some financial trouble and tries her luck as a debt collector.


conjure ear smoke. They’re so nasty to each other that when we hear that they’re heading over to a friend’s house for a dinner party in a little bit, we aren’t sure they’ll be able to contain their anger. Are they going to cause a scene, make their friends watch them come to blows over wine and tapas?


There will be no fighting at dinner because someone will die first. It's neither Leilani nor Jibran, who mutually decide to break up mid-ride over after realizing that they've "been done for a while now," doing the dying, though. They hit a bicyclist. The guy seems OK: when the couple offers to help, he stands up, mounts his bike, and zooms away. Judging from his moon eyes and frantic energy, he doesn’t want their help because he’s running away from someone.


Such is confirmed a blink or two later when, out of nowhere, a different man forces his way into the driver’s seat of the now-ex-couple’s car. (He says he’s a cop.) At the end of a long pursuit, the driver hits the bicyclist again (a red flag), then rolls over him again and again as if he were sugar-cookie dough (another red flag). So maybe he’s not a cop. By the time Leilani and Jibran have begun to process what’s just gone on, the fake officer’s run off, and a couple of white hipsters wearing statement hats who have stumbled on the scene are calling the police. “I don’t, like, think they’re murderers because they’re minorities — I think they’re murderers because they just killed somebody!” one of the two hipsters (Catherine Cohen) eyeing the ex-couple tells the 9/11 operator with increasing hysteria. 


Any possible explanation of what has just happened sounds too crazy to be true, and, since they’re people of color, too, Leilani and Jibran think it better not to go to the police — at least not right away. So what if they solved the murder on their own, exonerating themselves in the process? They take off. Leilani’s phone is sacrificed in a barely sipped milkshake after calls from the police start coming with marathon-like intensity as she and Jibran try to come up with a plan at a diner. The Lovebirds from then on becomes the sort of comedy movie adjacent to projects like Date Night (2010) and 2018’s minor classic Game Night. In those movies, couples who have planned for a pleasant night out find themselves incidentally wrapped up in a misadventure flecked with murder and intrigue.  (The Lovebirds has a goofy conspiracy driving it.) Scary for the lovebirds, but fun for the viewer. 


The movie was supposed to premiere at this year’s South by Southwest festival and subsequently get a general release. Like most all big plans that were supposed to be executed in the COVID-19-era, both things were canceled, and so The Lovebirds had to switch gears. In lieu of getting delayed, it was put out on Netflix this weekend. It’s not that great a movie. The dialogue skews clunky especially in the scenes where Rae and Nanjiani are fighting — it’s like nobody involved had ever before done anything dramatic. And certain on-the-nose character beats, like Anna Camp’s Southern-accented villainess with a thing for torturing people with bacon grease and Cohen’s hysterical hipster, conflate noisy cartoonishness with wit. The central mystery is too facile. When we find out what’s really going on, we’re underwhelmed — there has to be something more. (Similar movies, like the aforementioned Game Night or 1978’s Foul Play, partially worked terrifically as mystery thrillers because their stories were engagingly multilayered.) 


But The Lovebirds, which made me laugh enough, hit right on the Friday evening that I watched it. Usually, the more absurd a given scene’s premise, the better. I hit play because I wanted to escape into a comedy with an edge starring a couple of performers I really like, and then I did.

a montage sequence in which Leilani (Rae) and Jibran (Nanjiani) are on a date one afternoon. It's their first, and it goes so extraordinarily well that, hours later, when Leilani remembers that she’s supposed to meet up with friends soon, she cancels on them to spend more time with her potential mate.


The Lovebirds then jumps four years ahead. Leilani and Jibran are still together — they share an apartment now — but barely. If the first sequence in the movie was supposed to be a straightforward depiction of fresh romantic bliss, then the second is an encapsulation of its death. The verbal sparring that takes it up suggests that Jibran and Leilani are at the damning point in a doomed relationship where just the tempo of the other’s breathing pattern is enough to


ssa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani are stereotypical lovebirds for about five minutes in The Lovebirds, a new caper comedy on Netflix. The movie opens with

On The Lovebirds and Buffaloed

A Mad Dash 

May 26, 2020  


Double Feature

Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae in 2020's "The Lovebirds."

Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae in 2020's The Lovebirds.