About a quarter of the way through the newest direct to Netflix film You People, directed by Kenya Barris in his directorial debut and co-written alongside Jonah Hill who also stars, the atmosphere immediately shifts from a modern romantic comedy for the 21st century into an uncomfortable explosion of cultural differences and the ignorance that shroud’s peoples perspectives. The tone shift is something that is predictably on its way yet, when it lands and plants its flag, You People becomes a frustrating mess of tones stuck in a losing game of tug-of-war, unsure of what direction to lean heavily into.
And to make matters worse, Barris and Hill’s script continuously piles on the uncomfortable environment they created by pushing the boundaries for what has already been done. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, a line of dialogue gets said or a moment is regurgitated to dig the hole another foot deeper. Within the script is a ton of promise that gets overshadowed quickly turning something special into an attack culture and the very fabric that lays the foundation for the film. Yes, there are plenty of funny moments and lines of dialogue thrown out into the various rooms and places these characters go to, but once the dust settles, the certain lines and situations repeat in the subconscious, turning out to be more offensive than anything authentic.
I’ll admit, there are several clever moments that stand out among the mostly uncomfortable forced conversations but overall, You People settles into becoming a discussion of unacceptable behavior between two cultures. Barris and Hill set up some sweet moments during the romantic parts but they under-stayed their welcome. Hints at seeing these characters beyond their race, creed and culture but as individuals offers a compelling backdrop to tell a story of inclusion when the narrative isn’t taking cheap shots at stereotypical tropes.
You People follows Ezra (Jonah Hill) or EZ for short as he works a miserable job as a stock broker while moonlighting as a podcaster with best friend Mo (Sam Jay). Topics of conversation range from sports to sneakers to the culture to which version of the musical artist Drake EZ is comparing himself to a specific album to race relations as an analogy is used to describe one of a cheating boyfriend or girlfriend. What starts as a thought provoking discussion turns inorganic as if the two have nothing interesting to say on a podcast they co-own.
Randomly one afternoon, EZ mistakenly gets into a car he assumes is an Uber driver for it to be Amira (Lauren London) who is lost and who happens to be EZ’s Uber drivers doppelgänger. The two go to lunch and hit it off. No black and white, no misunderstandings, ignorance or stereotypes, just two people seeing past all of the recent tension and hatred that has created unrest throughout the country and enjoying their company. Fast forward 6 months and the families are introduced. First is Ezra’s family – Shelley (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Arnold (David Duchovny). Arnold doesn’t add much to the conversation besides an unhealthy obsession to the rapper Xzibit while Shelley overpowers Amira with ignorant superficial assumptions.
On the opposite side is Amira’s disapproving parents Akbar (Eddie Murphy) and Fatima (Nia Long) who from the start made it their mission to make Ezra’s life hell. One moment that comes back to me happens in Akbar’s car when it’s just the two guys. A song by Watch the Throne comes on and the tension can be cut with a knife. Akbar for the entire ride attempts to bait Ezra into saying a word that shouldn’t be spoken. It’s a bit that starts out playful and funny but quickly turns the mood into one that should quickly be forgotten. It’s by this point that Barris and Hill reach the threshold but continue to cross a line of creating an unnecessary environment.
Caught in the middle of their embarrassing families is Amira and Ezra and their actor counterparts Jonah Hill and Lauren London have a charming chemistry together. During the beginning of their relationship, the newness of it dubbed the honeymoon phase is an absolute treat to watch as the two form a bond that is beyond expectations of their families and heritages. It’s the little moments like brushing teeth together or the cheesy one liners or choosing the music to set the vibe that strengthens their compatibility. Hill and London capture the essence of a strong relationship in such a short amount of time. These are two people in a modern dating world of app love that found each other the old fashion way and built a foundation on being a team.
Coming out early enough in the year for a platform that always has an absurd number of releases ready to go You People will fall at the wayside. Featuring a concept with a ton of promise, landing the plane is tough ask for a film with varying tones and messages it’s attempting to convey. There’s a ton of talent in front of and behind the camera however, the final product feels like there’s too many cooks in the kitchen, trying to get their recipe heard but the wrong units of measurements are being used. Featuring a murderers row of a soundtrack, the final act attempts to right the ship with what should have been the foundation of the film – a celebration of culture’s and a learning experience for those who seek out a better understanding from differences of life experience. Hill and London are the clear standouts with Murphy and Louis-Dreyfus over performing when more nuance and natural humor could have been better off scaled down.
Screenplay By: Kenya Barris & Jonah Hill
Directed By: Kenya Barris
Music By: Bekon
Cinematography: Mark Doering-Powell
Starring: Jonah Hill, Lauren London, David Duchovny, Nia Long, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Eddie Murphy, Sam Jay
Where to Watch: Netflix
Edited By: Jamie Nelson
Release Date: Jan 27, 2023
Running Time: 1 Hour 58 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 42%