You People Are Really Going to Enjoy This Movie

26 Jan

They say good movies aren’t released in January, but Kenya Barris’ You People is the rare exception.

The debut feature from the creator of Black-ish is, what else, a comedic take on modern-day race relations. It tells the story of white, Jewish Ezra (Jonah Hill) who meets Black, Muslim Amira (Lauren London), when he mistakenly gets in her car thinking she’s his Uber driver. The two opposites attract and fall in love, and soon it’s time to meet the parents. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t go well.

To put it mildly, her parents (Eddie Murphy and Nia Long) don’t approve, and his (Julia Louis-Dreyfus and David Duchovny), well, they try a bit too hard to show how much they do approve. The contrasts in approach are heightened for comedic effect, and Barris spends the rest of the movie having a lot of fun tweaking the parents’ differing reactions to their children’s choice of partner.

Familiar topics and tropes each get a punchline or two, but the screenplay, co-written by Barris and Hill, is smart, sharp, and not pandering. Case in point, the opening scene, during which Ezra and his podcasting partner, Mo (Sam Jay), riff about “the culture,” making a series of unconventional observations about Barack Obama and other hot topics in rapid-fire fashion. It sets the tone for the film ahead.

Hill, whose comedic instincts can sometimes be a bit much (see Don’t Look Up … or better yet, don’t), here leans more on deadpan delivery and exasperated reactions to all the mishegas. When Ezra isn’t tripping over his words to earn his future in-laws’ approval, Hill is playing it mostly straight; it’s one of his better performances to date.

Similarly subdued is Murphy, whose judgmental looks say everything. His Akbar is unwilling to give Ezra any benefit of the doubt, but most of all, he just doesn’t like the kid’s cultural appropriation. With his skeptical tone, Akbar is a perfect foil for Ezra; it’s great fun to watch him setting up Ezra to fail or just watching as Ezra squirms uncomfortably. (The conversation where Akbar tries to get Ezra to say the full name of the Jay-Z/Kanye West “in Paris” song is a particular highlight.)

On the other hand, Louis-Dreyfus’s Shelley is an unstoppable force of overcompensation. She shares that she’s excited about becoming “a family of color,” and keeps saying and doing all the wrong things in her effort to show how hip she is and how much she supports the relationship. It’s a strong and terrifically funny supporting performance from Louis-Dreyfus, one I legitimately hope is remembered a year from now when the 2023 Oscar nominations are announced. (No kidding.)

And, as if that’s not enough, a who’s who of comedic players — everyone from Anthony Anderson and Mike Epps to Hal Linden and Rhea Perlman — each contribute a few laughs along the way.

Worth noting, too, is that Barris’s film is not just a love story about two 30-somethings, it’s a love letter to Los Angeles, as well. Scenes were shot all over the Westside and in South Central, at locations including the Skirball Cultural Center, Nate ’n Al’s, Roscoe’s House of Chicken ‘N Waffles, and the Capitol Records building, and other spots are included in quick interstitials that are the film’s most frequent stylistic element. Sure, it’s a sanitized version of L.A., but you can’t deny that the city looks great.

While You People could have used a 5- or 10-minute trim on the way to its expected conclusion, and this Jew was perplexed about a date scene at a restaurant that happens seemingly minutes after a Yom Kippur morning service, it remains edgy, earnest, and highly entertaining for most of its running time. Yes, we all need to get along — or at the very least, tolerate each others’ differences. So, if Barris’ goal is to bring people together, then a comedy like this one is the way to do it. To that end, I laughed out loud multiple times, and would gladly watch this movie again. (I guess that’s one benefit of it being a Netflix release.) 

I’m giving You People a B+. Don’t be surprised if you see it on my year-end list of favorite movies of 2023.

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