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edge staff writer


Tonally confused ‘You People’ never finds its lane

January 30, 2023
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A good comedy will make you laugh. A GREAT comedy will make you laugh and think. Unfortunately, too often, when a film aspires to the latter, they wind up not just failing in that regard, but whiffing on the former as well. Laughs have a tendency to evaporate when people try too hard.

And let me tell you – “You People” tries WAY too hard.

On paper, this Netflix movie should have been a slam dunk. The people involved have legitimate comedic bona fides, with Kenya Barris behind the camera directing from a script he co-wrote with Jonah Hill. Hill also stars, alongside some pretty heavy hitters – Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David Duchovny, Nia Long and Eddie F---ing Murphy, among others. Plus, you’re looking at a film intended to mine humor from the culture clashes and social dynamics of the current day. All in all, looking pretty good.

Right up until you, y’know, watch the thing.

“You People” is one of those movies that can’t get out of its own way, trying to be all things to all audiences and instead failing to please anyone. There are some cringe-y comic moments and some feints at social awareness, but the film never manages to find anything resembling balance. The wild variances in tone make it difficult to settle in and wind up undermining whatever moments of humor might be found. It seems like a good faith effort, but one sorely wanting in terms of execution.

Ezra (Jonah Hill) can’t seem to figure out what he wants from life. He hates his job in finance; his well-meaning mother Shelley (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and amiable dad Arnold (David Duchovny) keep trying to set him up with nice girls from the synagogue, but he can never relate. His passion is his podcast, where he and his partner Mo (Sam Jay) discuss various aspects of Black culture.

Amira (Lauren London) is a costume designer by trade. She’s had some bad luck in love recently, though her parents Akbar (Eddie Murphy) and Fatima (Nia Long) don’t hesitate to interfere, always inserting their own beliefs and ideas into the proceedings.

Ezra and Amira have a meet-cute involving Uber and mistaken identity (a moment that actually gave me a brief inkling of hope for this movie, so much the worse for me) and wind up connecting. It isn’t long before they’re dating, and in just a matter of months, Ezra decides that he wants to ask her to marry him. However, this means one thing has to happen:

Meeting the parents.

These interactions go about as well as one might expect, with Ezra’s parents trying desperately to come off as progressive but only serving to bring their own cultural cluelessness to the forefront and Amira’s parents questioning Ezra’s intentions and whether someone like him could ever be deserving of their daughter. Ezra and Amira are both left struggling in the wake of the words and actions of the other’s parents.

Hijinks, such as they are, ensue.

The pressure mounts as these two people, who simply want to love one another, are forced into ever-growing conflicts due to the ingrained cultural attitudes of the previous generation. They’re not blameless – Amira and especially Ezra make mistakes along the way – but if there’s to be any hope of happiness, it seems pretty clear that they’re going to have to work through their respective mommy and daddy issues.

As I said, I wanted to like “You People” more than I did. This is fertile ground for comedy that is both provocative and funny, but this film ultimately doesn’t give us much of either. Don’t get me wrong – there are a few jokes that work and a couple of moments that come close to insight, but for the most part, Barris and company seem content to splash around in the shallow end. It all feels a little too easy – and easy is NOT what you want from this kind of movie.

Obviously, addressing issues of race and inequality requires a degree of delicacy, particularly if you’re hoping to elicit some chuckles. However, at a certain point, this will only work if you’re willing to take some chances … and “You People” never does.

That lack of risk ultimately defangs some fairly strong comic actors. Hill seems content to let his borderline-absurd aesthetic do most of the heavy lifting, which leaves London to carry the weight in a number of scenes. Their chemistry ebbs and flows, but for the most part is … fine. Murphy mostly plays it straight here, a move that kind of works and likely would have been even more effective had the rest of the script been better; instead, it feels like a waste. Long is fine, albeit underutilized. Duchovny is basically here for a weird running gag about Xzibit. Now, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is definitely going for it, but she doesn’t have a lot to work with. The rest of the players have some moments – Jay is funny, while Rhea Perlman is delightful in a couple of scenes as Ezra’s grandmother – but for the most part, it all feels flat. Stakes that are too low are troublesome for any movie, but absolutely damning for one like this.

“You People” isn’t a terrible movie. It’s just not very good. And when you consider the quality and talent of the individuals involved, that’s unfortunate. There’s a real meal in this concept – too bad this crew left so much meat on the bone.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 30 January 2023 08:32

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