There is an alternate timeline where You peoplethe directorial debut from Kenya Barris (black-ish), is the next big romantic comedy. There is another version where it is a biting satire that delves into the strain parents can put on their adult children. There’s an even more distant possibility where it’s a sharp critique of race relations that both entertains and tackles the hard truths about the annulment of culture, privilege, and faith. While the film clearly wants to be all of these possibilities, it ends up collapsing under the weight of its intentions and lands… lived.
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, the two begin 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 an amusing form 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 it all as Ezra’s well-meaning and overbearing Jewish mother Shelley Cohen. Even stand-alone characters are played by gifted comedic actors, leading to laughs 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 whether it wants to be a love story or a social commentary, and ends up doing neither very well.
Hill and London’s unconvincing coupling has very little to do with the interracial aspect of their relationship. The audience is simply never shown what makes them stay together. You people pushes the couple’s relationship into a brief montage of long dates, matching sneakers and bonding over LA hip-hop culture (London is the former partner of the late Nipsey Hussle, an LA hip-hop icon). Any chemistry the two have in scenes, and there is a certain chemistry often wanes under the collective incompatibility of their families.
While all of Ezra’s emotions and thought processes are developed onscreen, Amira is given little agency, lines, or emotion beyond frustration. London’s absence is even more evident when a joke about Ezra’s love of cocaine during a boys’ weekend gets more screen time than a real confrontation between Amira and Shelley over the Jewish mother who treats Amira like a shiny new black barbie to dress up – a shame as London still manages to shine despite its limited lines.
Whose You people‘s sole aim was to deliver a two-hour film with some light laughs, it could be considered a success. You can’t put Hill, Murphy and Louis-Dreyfus at a dinner table and leave without laughing. But in trying to answer dozens of questions about race, privilege, interracial relationships, and interfaith families, You people develops into a clumsy juggling act – and ends up abandoning all these weighty subjects in favor of surface-level solutions. There are so many beautiful images of Los Angeles used as interstitials that anyone nodding off (and you can nod off) will wake up and assume they’re seeing any number of the Barris-created ish TV series.
You people makes a stronger case for cutting out unhelpful family members than it does for mutual understanding between different cultures. And even with all the timely jokes about vaccines and Kanye West, the film only manages to resurrect old arguments and then discard them for a sense of family it hasn’t earned—a shoehorned solution that makes the film feel less like a modern tag and more like the same old racing 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 movie for you. Your parents like it though.