THE STORY – A new couple and their families reckon with modern love amid culture clashes, societal expectations and generational differences.
THE CAST – Jonah Hill, Lauren London & Eddie Murphy
THE TEAM – Kenya Barris (Director/Writer) & Jonah Hill (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 118 Minutes
The romantic comedy “You People” marks “Blackish” creator Kenya Barris’ feature directorial debut and is a modern reinvention of the classic comedy “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” The film takes the well-known story of an interracial couple whose families just can’t get along and aspires to do something new with it, a mostly unsuccessful feat – save for its take on dating in a world in which Black Lives Matter and other social justice issues are at the forefront of society. As one would expect with an R-rated rom-com, “You People” is raunchy and features explicit dialogue, yet it isn’t nearly as shocking as it probably intends to be. With a script co-written by Barris and by star Jonah Hill, the film is nowhere near the level of Hill’s earlier comedies, such as “Superbad.”
Amira (Lauren London) and Ezra (Hill) don’t exactly have a meet-cute situation alla most romantic comedies. Here, Ezra accidentally goes into Amira’s car, assuming it’s his Uber driver. What follows is a succession of scenes that show how they – too quickly – start dating and fall in love, with Ezra now ready to propose. Of course, there’s the matter of Ezra’s and Amira’s parents, specifically Ezra’s mom, Shelley (Julia Louis-Deyfus), and Amira’s dad, Akbar (Eddie Murphy). As expected, there are plenty of cringe-inducing moments that leave everyone at odds, ushering to climactic moments that are fairly expected and not necessarily earned. So, yes, you know things will get at least somewhat out of control, which makes the narrative extremely predictable.
It’s clear that “Guess Who’s Coming” wasn’t the only inspiration for the film, which very obviously pulls from similar films, such as “Meet the Parents,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” and “Father of the Bride.” One could also get some “Get Out”-esque vibes, especially as Shelley is the one who’s trying [too hard] to be woke. At times, she presents herself as the white savior and is, surprisingly, the most interesting and relatable character in the movie. What also makes this particular version of the familiar story unique is that the families are Muslim and Jewish, thereby adding more cultural clashing to the events.
The film’s first act is rather fast-paced, and it doesn’t feel as though we’ve become familiar enough with Ezra and Amira’s relationship to care about it. The script also contains numerous pop culture and political references, which exist primarily to set the film in today’s world. Of course, there are plenty of jokes and one-liners, some of which are genuinely funny and clever; however, others go on for far too long. At a certain point, the viewer has probably had enough of that one bit that has already overplayed itself. Additionally, just like the characters of Ezra and Shelley, the script itself seems to be trying too hard to include as many stereotypical characters as possible. For sure, the dialogue is anything but subtle, as the characters are apt to spend more time “telling” as opposed to “showing.” But on the positive side, the dramatic moments work better than expected, especially the ending, which was more touching than one might think from this sort of movie, despite its predictability.
Hill seems to be playing himself – or, at least, a version of himself in which he doesn’t need to cover up his numerous tattoos. He surely shares character traits with Ezra, the type of guy who tries to be cool and fit in with the Black culture, so much so that there’s no denying he is trying too hard. There’s also a plethora of slang and colloquialisms that don’t exactly sound natural coming from Hill, even if they’re meant to sound a bit more natural coming from his character. London is solid as Amira, although the character isn’t given nearly as much depth as the others. Murphy’s character is a stereotypically overbearing father who has become quite cynical and immediately despises his daughter’s new fiance. He’s the kind of man who’s extremely set in his ways, and even though Murphy has his unique on-screen presence, he does nothing new for the role. Louis-Dreyfus is, of course, spot-on with her line delivery, and it helps that she is often given the best (i.e., funniest) lines and moments.
Barris’ – whose previous directorial credits involved “Blackish” and one of its spin-offs – filmmaking is a mixed bag. He attempts to be unique and hip with split screens and various scene transitions that don’t necessarily fit the movie’s tone. The use of slow-motion in one particular scene is unwarranted and most likely doesn’t achieve whatever he was hoping to achieve. One great scene, though, is when he uses cross-cutting to show Ezra’s and Amira’s extremely awkward car rides with their soon-to-be in-laws. Barris also utilized his connections to include several cameos, including himself and other friends like Anthony Anderson and Deon Cole.
Overall, “You People” is mediocre, at best. It doesn’t change the game when it comes to the “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” premise but it does contain glimpses into what it could have been had the writing and filmmaking been more polished and unique. It’s always good to see Murphy back on screen, even if his performance is more subdued than normal. Plus, seeing Hill essentially play himself is refreshing and fun to see.