By Josh Reilly B. & George Bate
You People opens with a black screen, soon followed by introductory titles. The voices of Jonah Hill’s Ezra and Sam Jay’s Mo can be heard as they trade a series of awkward remarks back and forth. It’s meant to be a witty and engaging way to get the audience on board with the upcoming film, but instead comes across as cringeworthy and effortful.
Netflix’s You People is the latest installment of the ‘meet-your-in-laws’ subgenre of comedy. black-ish creator Kenya Barris directs and co-writes Jonah Hill and Lauren London, who play Ezra and Amira respectively. Coming from a Jewish family, Ezra is in his mid-30s and navigating a job as a broker while struggling to find a companion who resonates with him. Amira, meanwhile, is from a Muslim upbringing and is coming off a break-up with her boyfriend when a GPS / Uber mishap sees her cross paths with Ezra. What follows is a blossoming love story, which, eventually, entails Ezra and Amira meeting their respective in-laws – played by Eddie Murphy, Nia Long, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and David Duchovny.
There isn’t anything particularly unique about the premise of You People (anyone who has seen Meet the Parents will be intimately familiar with this film’s structure), which means any novelty the film has to bolster must come from other areas. Jonah Hill and Kenya Barris, who wrote the script together, decide to set their film apart with attempts to make the film as timely and relevant as possible. The film constantly references real issues affecting marginalized groups and certainly has the potential to have some interesting social commentary on these issues. Unfortunately, the filmmakers employ such a heavy-handed approach to these timely topics. You People glaringly lacks subtlety or nuance, instead opting for garish and, at times, offensive gags.
A particularly noteworthy case of this poor handling is during a dinner between Ezra and Amira’s parents. There’s plenty of potential for a brilliantly crafted, Meet the Parents-esque scene here. Eddie Murphy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are titans of comedy, while David Duchovny has perfected a deadpan delivery style and the perpetually underrated Nia Long has an opportunity to shine. What has all the potential in the world stumbles into a tense scene that progresses from awkward to cringe-worthy to offensive at record pace. The in-laws argue about what was the worse: the American Slave Trade or the Holocaust. It’s an inane conversation that culminates in the burning of Eddie Murphy’s character’s treasured crown.
The meet-the-in-laws scene reflects the misguided approach to You People from start to finish. Awkward dialogue is coupled with such glaringly effortful attempts to make viewers laugh. Inevitably, at nearly two hours long, some lines and gags land better than others (David Duchovny’s father figure’s obsession with the rapper Xzibit). And the chemistry between Ezra and Amira at the film’s core can be quite endearing at times. But small moments of enjoyment are fleeting in an otherwise grim viewing.
You People certainly has potential, but ultimately wastes an extraordinarily talented cast, filled to the brim with comedy heavyweights. Writers Jonah Hill and Kenya Barris’ attempts to incorporate poignant social commentary are heavy-handed to say the least and many of the film’s jokes range from awkward and cringe-worthy to tasteless and offensive.