Co-written by Kenya Barris and Jonah Hill, and directed by Barris, “You People” (2023) debuted as Netflix’s No. 1 most-watched movie on its premiere date. The social comedy tackles a millennial interracial and interfaith love story and the reactions it elicits from the couple’s families. The movie boasts an impressive ensemble cast led by Hill and Lauren London as couple Ezra and Amira, and more importantly Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Eddie Murphy as Ezra’s stereotypical Los Angeles Jewish mom and Amira’s devout Muslim dad, respectively. Just those names are enough to draw in a broad viewership.
But big celebrities aren’t enough to make a successful film, let alone a good commentary. In fact, “You People” is at its worst when it pretends to have something to say. The film is rife with overbearing stereotypes, engaging in racial archetypes that seem antithetical to the film’s mission. Those tropes simply cannot be ignored; in attempting to be a ‘comedy with a purpose’, the film falls prey to the exact stereotypes that it is trying to critique.
A case of a mistaken Uber driver and a subsequent accusation of racism blossoms into a self-contained couple whose honeymoon period will inevitably be interrupted by their parents reckoning with their differences. For a movie marketed as a rom-com, you might expect to see a little more relationship development, but with the focus on families and racial tensions, a believable picture of the relationship itself gets lost. The brief screentime with just the couple feels unconvincing: Any chemistry between the actors or characters themselves appears to have been an afterthought.
Hill handily accepts his role as a well-meaning white guy who gets himself into less-than-ideal situations, this time more properly grown up. We’re introduced to him in a podcast snippet about ‘the culture’ with his friend Mo (Sam Jay). Mo’s character is an early indicator of the film’s futile attempt to both be woke and critique wokeness: an archetypal Black sidekick. In the same vein, we meet Ezra’s sister Liza (Molly Gordon), a queer woman who isn’t given a real plotline. Amira’s character, despite her compelling personality, feels like a missed opportunity, as it often seems her character exists as a plot pawn to shine a light on her more well-known co-stars.
The parents are really the meat of the story, imposing their own big personalities on their adult children who just want to love who they love.
Murphy’s comedic prestige precedes him, and in this case, he doesn’t really catch up. Despite the flawed and one-dimensional writing of his character, his performance as Akbar unfortunately lets the script do the talking without injecting any of the Eddie Murphy magic his fans would hope for.
Our first time meeting Amira’s dad feels off — the film quickly establishes him as the archetypal militant father. The scene diminishes what could’ve been a complex and nuanced character arc into the trope of a one-dimensional angry Black man. He basically exists as a relationship roadblock, and his “coming around” by the end is abrupt and undeveloped.
Louis-Dreyfus gives a standout performance as Ezra’s mom Shelley, with a spot-on portrayal of the overbearing Jewish mom who tries too hard to be ‘hip.’ Perhaps I’m biased as someone who sees some of my own mom in Shelley, but her character is perhaps the most convincing and manages to make cringeworthy jokes without crossing too many lines.
One of the main shortcomings of this film, aside from cliché characters and borderline offensive jokes, is that it can’t figure out what it wants to say and to whom. It lacks a clear sense of the intended audience, leaving the viewer confused as to whether there was a message beyond ‘racial and religious differences in couples and their parents are hard, but we should all just apologize for various types of oppression and be nice and get married.’ It makes no serious mention of antisemitism besides an inappropriate Holocaust joke, and skirts around any deeper approach to Black oppression — if anything, it diminishes both to interpersonal antagonism and less-than-tasteful jokes. The movie was also downright uncomfortable (in a bad way) and didn’t present any revelations about navigating cultural differences in love.
Social commentary and comedy aren’t mutually exclusive, but “You People” falls just short of succeeding in either.