"You People" isn't thoughtless, but it's also not as thoughtful nor as funny as it could’ve and should’ve been.
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I’m only somewhat familiar with the works of writer/producer Kenya Barris. I might have only seen an episode or two of “Black-ish,” which he created. I also caught an episode or two of “Mixed-ish” due to the presence of Mark-Paul Gosselaar AKA Zack Morris. I’ve never seen a single episode of “Grown-ish.” I watched and largely enjoyed “Girls Trip” and “Shaft” (2019) – both of which Barris had a hand in writing. I also watched and reviewed “The Witches” (2020) and “Coming 2 America” – reviews here and here (the verdict on both was mixed-positive) – on which he served as a co-writer.
I’m far more familiar with the works of actor/writer/producer/director Jonah Hill. The two movies he’s directed “Mid90s” and “Stutz” were some of my favorites from the years they released. Hill’s appeared in some of the best and funniest comedies of this century – among them “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” “Superbad,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and the “21 Jump Street” pictures. He’s also had the privilege of working with two of my favorite filmmakers Quentin Tarantino (“Django Unchained”) and Martin Scorsese (“The Wolf of Wall Street”).
Barris and Hill have teamed to co-write “You People” (currently in select theaters including Indianapolis-area venues Landmark’s Glendale 12 Theatre and Emagine Noblesville and available to stream on Netflix beginning Friday, Jan. 27), which marks Barris’ feature directorial debut.
Ezra (Hill) is a 35-year-old, Jewish, Angeleno who’s dissatisfied with his investment banking job and far more invested in the podcast he does with his friend Mo (Sam Jay). He hasn’t really taken to any of the women his mother Shelley (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, an expert at awkward) has tried to pair him with from their synagogue nor they to him.
One fateful day Ezra hops into the back seat of a Mini Cooper belonging to Amira (Lauren London) believing her to be his Uber driver, which she most assuredly isn’t. Amira is understandably annoyed at first, but is ultimately charmed and accepting when Ezra invites her on a date to apologize for his confusion.
Over the course of the next six months Amira and Ezra fall in love. He has intentions of marrying her, but at Mo’s insistence decides he must meet and ask permission from her Muslim parents Akbar (Eddie Murphy) and Fatima (Nia Long). They’re unimpressed with Ezra’s misguided choice of a meeting place (Roscoe’s House of Chicken ‘N Waffles) and by him and his whiteness overall.
Rounding out the cast are David Duchovny as Ezra’s Xzibit-obsessed father Arnold, Molly Gordon as Ezra’s lesbian sister Liza and Indianapolis native Mike Epps as Amira’s Uncle EJ – all of whom elevate the material.
Barris’ flick starts strongly, but falters the further it goes along. It’s not thoughtless in the subjects it addresses (tokenism, white people’s proprietary treatment of black people and black culture as a whole, the comparative suffering of African Americans and Jews), but it’s probably not as thoughtful nor as funny as it could’ve and should’ve been … a slippery slope to be sure.
The chemistry between Hill’s Ezra and London’s Amira starts strongly, but dwindles throughout the picture’s duration. I was honestly more invested in and engaged/entertained by the platonic relationship between Ezra and Jay’s Mo. The scenes of them podcasting are honestly some of the film’s best, funniest and realest.
Mileage with “You People” will likely vary depending upon how much you enjoy watching Murphy, who’s very much the straight man and not in the movie as much as I’d assumed, be a dick to Hill over the course of nearly two hours … it would’ve played better at 90 minutes and change. There have been worse spins on “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (I’m looking at you, Ashton Kutcher!), but this one’s occasionally as stale as the transitions Barris and his team employ that feel as if they were lifted from the dated albeit entertaining Duchovny pay cable series “Californication.”