A film review by Craig J. Koban February 9, 2023

YOU PEOPLE  j

2023, R, 117 mins.

Jonah Hill as Ezra  /  Eddie Murphy as Akbar  /  Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Shelley  /  Lauren London as Amira  /  David Duchovny as Arnold  /  Nia Long as Fatima  /  Sam Jay as Sam Jay  /  Molly Gordon as Liza  /  Travis Bennett as Omar  /  Andrea Savage as Becca  /  Rhea Perlman as Bubby  /  La La Anthony as Shaela  /  Deon Cole as Demetrius  /  Mike Epps as Uncle EJ

Directed by Kenya Barris  /  Written by Barris and Jonah Hill
 

 

 

ORIGINAL FILM

Netflix's YOU PEOPLE is a comedy of stunning and almost unfathomable awfulness that would have only been made better if my stream of it started buffering horribly from the onset and impeded my ability to make it all the way through to its end.  

The film is also made all the more shameful because (a) it's trying to tackle some serious issues about modern day race relations in the most contrived and sitcom-worthy manner possible and (b) it contains some incredibly talented actors that have been proven to be funny in films before, but here wallow in one tone deaf and inexcusably hackneyed scene after another to the point of inspiring frequent eye rolling in viewers.  

The film - from director Kenya Barris (the creator of ABC's BLACK-ISH) and co-written by one of the stars himself in Jonah Hill - is attempting (as far as I can tell) to be a new fangled take on GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER with a modern contemporary edge, but I simply found this whole affair borderline insufferable to endure within its first 20-30 minutes.  The fact that it shamelessly meanders along for another 90 minutes is scandalous in its own right.  Very few films as of late - whether they be comedies or not - have strained to be uber progressive minded with their themes, but ended up being so regressive in tone and spirit as much as YOU PEOPLE. 

Hill appears as Ezra Cohen, a mid-thirtysomething Jewish lad that spends his days wallowing away in a soul sucking job in the financial world, but in his down time he co-hosts a podcast with his longtime partner in Mo (Sam Jay).  His family is supportive of him, if not smotheringly so, with mother Shelly (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) constantly concerned about her son's well being and future, whereas Ezra's dad in Arnold (David Duchovny) seems almost too out of touch and chill for his own good.  Erza also appears a bit aloof with his Jewish spiritual heritage, which bothers his mother to no end.  On one fateful he has a very unique meet-cute with Amira (Lauren London), whom he accidentally mistakes for being an Uber driver.  Amira is instantly aghast and quickly condemns Erza for entering her Mini Cooper and falsely believing that she's a ride share operator because she's black.  Erza very quickly defends himself and explains that his mistake was born more out of bad timing and idiocy than racism and offers to make it up to her by taking her out for lunch.  She cools down and agrees, and as they begin to spend some time together and learn about what makes the other tick and their aspirations (she's a dedicated fashion designer in training) the more mutual fondness begins to flourish, which gives way to a full-on romance. 

Things go so well for the this new pair that Erza decides that he wants to propose, but feeling honor bound he decides to approach her staunchly Muslin mother and father first to ask for their blessing.  Upon meeting the father, Akbar (Eddie Murphy), and mother, Fatima (Nia Long), Erza instantly realizes the insane amount of heat that he's getting from them, especially from Akbar, who does not hide away his feelings of complete condemnation for who her daughter has fallen in love with.  Erza then approaches Amira, explains what he did and reveals what would should have been a romantic marriage proposal to her, and soon afterwards the pair realize that they need to find a peaceful way for his Jewish parents and her Muslim parents to harmoniously co-exist and - in turn - grow to appreciate their respective son and daughter-in-law to come.  This culminates in a literal dinner from hell, during which time Amira's parents take great umbrage with Ezra's parents trying to claim that Jewish suffering was worse than African American suffering throughout history, and this inanely inopportune conversation gives way to more finger pointing by all parental parties, leaving Erza and Amira caught between both battling factions.  That, and Amira grows to become offended by Shelly's hopelessly feeble (and sometimes aggressive minded) attempts to respect her and her family's Muslim culture.  With a full-on race war between both households commencing, poor Erza and Amira begin to have nagging doubts about whether or not getting married is going to be truly worth it.   

 

 

Watching YOU PEOPLE simply made my head hurt.  It's one of those rare films that simply has no concrete idea what it wants to really be about, what it wants to really say, and what tone it wants to employ to relay everything.  There are certainly many hot button and timely ideas about race, race relations, religion, religious intolerance, interracial love, and so forth here, but Barris utterly fails to find a unifying manner to bring all of these core ideas together to form a meaningful whole.  You can certainly make a strong piece of social commentary about these topics and also find humor and pathos in them, but YOU PEOPLE seems so mindlessly blindsided when it comes to approach and execution.  Any time that the film tries to be sincere with these themes it then annoyingly digresses into endless scenes of would-be hilarious improvisational wackiness, which all but neuters any thoughtfulness that the story could have had.  The more one watches YOU PEOPLE then it becomes easy to see that the makers here had less of a fully realized script and instead relied on the actors seemingly riffing through endless scenes to find big comedic payoffs in the most cringe-inducing manner possible.  

And again, this goes on for nearly two head hurting hours.   

It all makes for such a miserably weird watch.  This improv-off-the-hook sensibility to almost all of the character building moments makes all of these people feel less and less fleshed out and real as the narrative progresses, which seems totally counterintuitive to what Barris should have been doing.  Other scenes just go for dumb shock laughs at the expense of one's religious affiliation, like one bizarre and off-putting moment at a local Synagogue when one of the attendees matter-of-factly asks Erza about his penis, or other moments when Erza's mom and dad engage in some truly uncomfortably behavior to come off as hip and inclusive when they're anything but.  Then there's the way that Erza also goes out of his way to appear fully on-board with and understanding of the black experience in America, which Akbar smells as an absolute sham and quickly lambastes him with ruthlessly passive-aggressive zest.  Now, there's something to be said about exploring all of these people and their ignorance about each other, and I'm sure a great comedy would have milked these petty misunderstandings for high hilarity.  Regretably, YOU PEOPLE is all about lame pratfalls, horrid punchlines, and scenes of petty shock humiliation.  I ultimately found it so hard to care about anyone in this film because so many of them seem to be trying to railroad the other.  Amira's parents are dislikeable for how openly hostile they are to the well meaning Erza, whereas his parents are equally detestable in their phony efforts to "get with" black culture.  The biggest casualty of the film is perhaps Amira, who's arguably the only truly nice person here that just so happens to be afforded the least amount of character development compared to her partner.   

And, man, what a horrendous squandering of this cast.  Hill has been beyond funny in films before with the right material, but he's more than a bit teeth grating here, not to mention that Louis-Dreyfus in particular (also a highly proven and gifted comedic actress) cracks up performance histrionics to level 11 and tries hard (way too hard) to make this abysmally handled material work.  And why on earth get Eddie Murphy in a film like this and have him play (or attempt to play) the relatively cold, reserved, and steely eyed straight man amidst all of the bonkers scenes he occupies?  I usually like it when actors play outside of their comfortable wheelhouses and in against-type roles, but Murphy is so emotionless and frankly bland in this role that you almost want to reach out to the screen and pinch the actor to check for his pulse; he's just sleep walking through this film.   And by the time YOU PEOPLE finally (and I do mean finally) arrives at its climax we're served up an idiotically manufactured cop-out conclusion that just made me want to throw my hands up in the air in disgust.  In these final moments, YOU PEOPLE wants to get emotionally grounded and earnest in its exploration of race and religion, but considering the whole messy and confused focus leading in it all comes across as too little, too late.  My BS radar/finger-wag-of-shame kicked into high gear. 

Ultimately, this GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER formula has been done to relative death over the years, which requires YOU PEOPLE to have some sort of novel ace up its sleeve to help segregate itself proudly apart from a well worn genre pack.  This culture clash comedy simply doesn't work despite its rich potential and extraordinary cast that has been so much better served in the past.  There's a careless thrown-together sensibility here, which is offensive in itself considering the topics that the film is pathetically trying to deep dive into.  Here's the other more obvious problem with YOU PEOPLE: it just didn't make me laugh...at all, which is a death blow for comedies, if you ask me.  This whole film is so tired, artificial, and uninspired that you have to ponder what was going on in the headspaces of the people in front of and behind camera while making it.  

Big fat Netflix paychecks, I'm guessing.  Is that why they're cracking down on password sharing?  These expensive and wrongheaded star-studded streaming projects don't pay for themselves, folks.   

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