Review: You People
Netflix's new film dropping this Friday is directed by Kenya Barris and written by Barris and Jonah Hill. This culture-clash rom-com has a lot of potential. Not only is Jonah Hill a talented comedic actor but you get Lauren London, Eddie Murphy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and David Duchovny in major roles. So why does this film feel so empty?
Everything that doesn't work in the film can be summed up in a few points. They are as follows; the film does not care about the romance at the center, it does not contain characters that act at all like real people, and it hammers on the same points without offering a way forward. Subtlety is not a quality of the film's observations or humor and while at times the film can be very funny, it never feels grounded in reality. That rubbed me the wrong way for a film trying to engage in the real differences between white, Jewish people and black people. The tone of the film might be best summarized by Duchovny's Arnold Cohen routinely referring to his love of Xzibit even when it never has a place in any conversation he is a part of.
This tone sinks the film by weighing it down with obvious and exaggerated observations on culture clash. Kenya Barris is a talented writer but as a director here, he often struggles to connect scenes to each other. Aside from some stylish but distracting transitions, the film plays more like a series of sketches than a satisfying narrative.
Now that isn't to say that You People is void of any smart details or well-executed humor. This cast is incredibly talented and brings so much to the table. I laughed a handful of times and a few jokes are so good, they make the film worth seeking out for them alone.
The setup is fairly simple. Ezra (Hill) is about to devote his life to his podcast with his best friend Mo (Sam Jay). On the podcast, they discuss "the culture" which is mostly black culture. Mo and Ezra's show is pretty great but Ezra is hesitant to leave his job as a broker.
One day Ezra climbs into a car he thinks is his Uber but it actually belongs to Amira (London) who is lost. The classic rom-com "meet cute" is initially charming. It is followed by a montage of the two dating and getting together. After that, it literally cut to SIX MONTHS LATER. I mention this because You People makes a big mistake early on and never recovers from it. We don't see much of Ezra and Amira's relationship so when the movie quickly turns its focus on meeting each other's families, we hardly feel like we know the central couple. This makes it hard to root for them for an additional 90 minutes of awkward humor and uncomfortable confrontations.
Ezra's parents Shelley (Dreyfus) and Arnold (Duchovny) are liberal, fairly wealthy white people who act as though Amira is the first black person they have ever seen. They treat her like a toy. Amira's parents Akbar (Murphy) and Fatima (Nia Long) are Muslim converts who see everything in black or white, mostly black being good and white being bad. When Ezra first meets them, he takes them to Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles, prompting Akbar to ask him if "he always hangs out in the hood." Ezra, trying to ask for Amira's hand in marriage, begins to talk about their mixed-race children.
That is about all the film does, hits the same two notes about white ignorance and black ignorance. In the midst of all of its commentary, it completely forgets about Ezra and Amira's relationship. Only in its final moments does it resemble the rom-com it started out as. While I do think there are some good performances and clever jokes here, you can't help but feel empty by the end of it because the film has never been more than a series of scenes strung together by a vague POV on race relations.