There’s an alternate timeline where You People, the feature directorial debut of Kenya Barris (black-ish), is the next great romantic comedy. There’s another version where it’s a biting satire that delves into the strain parents can inflict on their grown children. There’s an even more distant option, where it’s a sharp critique on race relations that both entertains and tackles the hard truths around cancel culture, privilege and faith. While the film clearly wants to be all of those options, it ends up buckling under the weight of its intentions and landing as… well, fine.
Directed by Barris and co-written by leading man Jonah Hill, You People bills itself as a modern twist on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hill stars as Angeleno sneakerhead and Jewish son Ezra Cohen, who works a finance job he hates while desperately dreaming of being a full-time culture podcaster with his best friend Mo (Sam Jay). When Ezra accidentally mistakes Amira Mohammed’s (Lauren London) car for his ride share, the two set upon a whirlwind romance full of differences that threaten to tear their relationship apart.
You People is occasionally funny in spite of itself. Hill oozes his signature self-deprecating charisma, turning lines that read pitiful into a hilarious sort of deadpan passivity. The central meet-cute is playful and awkward in a way that veers closer to endearing than cringe-worthy. As Amira’s father Akbar Mohammed, Eddie Murphy lands plenty of lines that soften the antagonistic aspects of his character, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus practically steals the entire damn thing as Ezra’s well-intentioned and overbearing Jewish mother Shelley Cohen. Even one-off characters are played by gifted comic actors, leading to a laugh here and there from stars like David Duchovny, Mike Epps, Deon Cole, Molly Gordon, Anthony Anderson, Kym Whitley and more. But the film can’t figure out if it wants to be a love story or social commentary, and ends up doing neither very well.
Hill and London’s unconvincing coupling has little to do with the interracial aspect of their relationship. The audience is simply never shown what makes them stay together. You People shoves the couple’s relationship into a short montage of long dates, matching sneakers and bonding over L.A. hip-hop culture (London is the former partner of the late Nipsey Hussle, an L.A. hip-hop icon). Any chemistry the two have in scenes, and there is some chemistry, often wanes under the collective incompatibility of their families.
While Ezra’s every emotion and thought process is developed on screen, Amira is given little agency, lines or emotions other than frustration. London’s absence is even more apparent when a joke about Ezra’s love of cocaine during a boys’ weekend gets more screen time than a genuine confrontation between Amira and Shelley over the Jewish mom treating Amira like a shiny, new Black barbie to dress up — a shame since London still manages to shine despite her limited lines.
If You People’s only goal was to deliver a two-hour movie with some light laughs, it could be deemed a success. You can’t put Hill, Murphy and Louis-Dreyfus at a dinner table and leave without chuckling. But in trying to address dozens of questions about race, privilege, interracial relationships and interfaith families, You People devolves into a clumsy juggling act — and ends up abandoning all these weighty topics in favor of surface-level solutions. There are so many gorgeous shots of Los Angeles used as interstitials that anyone who nods off (and you may nod off) will wake up and assume they are watching any number of the Barris-created ish TV series.
You People makes a stronger case for cutting unhelpful family members out than it does for a mutual understanding between differing cultures. And even with all of the timely jokes about vaccines and Kanye West, the film only manages to rehash old arguments and then throw them away for a sense of family it hasn’t earned — a shoehorned solution that makes the film feel less like a modern take and more like the same old race movie with a new pair of Air Jordans. If you’re looking for a comedic take on the world we live in now, this might not be the film for you. Your parents might love it though.