'You People' Review
January 25, 2023
In a recent interview she did with Indiewire centered around the world of You Hurt My Feelings at the ongoing Sundance Film Festival, star Julia Louis-Dreyfus had an astute observation about the power of film editing: “...when it comes to timing, both for drama and comedy but specifically for comedy if it’s not in place, it can be a butchery. It can be total nails on a chalkboard if you’re not with the right person.” If only she had shared that wisdom sooner with You People editor Jamie Nelsen and director Kenya Barris…
Barris, co-writing with star Jonah Hill, makes his feature directorial debut with this film. He’s already spent years on television as the creator of the hit ABC sitcom Black-ish (along with its subsequent spin-offs Mixed-ish and Grown-ish), as well as the Netflix series #BlackAF. Much of that sitcom energy spills into You People, with almost all of the scenes playing out as individual components that are awkwardly stitched together to deliver a less-than-compelling narrative.
You People is essentially an unofficial remake of 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, except with none of the seriousness and intention to actually make a difference. The story, while believable in concept, is delivered with such simplicity that it might as well be titled You People Have Got to be Kidding Me?!?!?
Things start off sweet as the white, Jewish Ezra (Jonah Hill) and the black, Muslim Amira (Lauren London) fall in love despite their many outward differences. Standing in the way of their love fully blossoming into marriage are their parents, namely Ezra’s mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Amira’s father (Eddie Murphy), who both can’t get over the fact that their child is marrying someone of a different race.
Much of the “humor” within You People is that the characters don’t want to outwardly offend others by bringing up what they're really thinking, so they dance around the subject with endless rambling. It’s as if you’re binging five episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry David gets himself into a bad situation and makes it worse by trying to talk his way out of it. Except here there are no Larrys as Barris and Hill don’t outwardly vilify their characters, keeping the conflicts superficial. All you get is an excessive amount of second-hand embarrassment and little first-rate sense of stakes or personal investment.
If any of the characters sat down for more than five minutes and talked honestly, then none of this would be a problem. It seems like that was the intention that Barris and Hill had with their script, to show that all these racial problems could be solved with some understanding and truthfulness. But if Green Book erroneously taught us anything a few years ago, it’s that this problem doesn’t just go away with a quick heart-to-heart as it does here.
Even Eddie Murphy, who can usually be depended on to spin comedy gold out of straw, can’t salvage what he’s given here. He’s given a movie star entrance as James Brown plays overhead, but then just sits back and bemoans about Ezra being white for the next ninety minutes. Louis-Dreyfus is probably worse served as she’s forced to recycle the same “older white woman who’s not in touch with today’s racial climate” bit on and on until it almost becomes offensive to comedy.
You People tries way too hard to do way too little, becoming a “film for everyone” that no one will enjoy. Barris abruptly exited his $100 million multi-year deal with Netflix in 2021 for another lucrative pact over at Paramount. Somewhere in a Hollywood bar right now there are two executives, one from Netflix and the other from Paramount drinking together, except one is downing shots much happier than the other.