Kenya Barris’ feature directorial debut, You People, is a mixed bag of laughs, annoyances, and cringe-worthy dialogue.
A modern take on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Kenya Barris’ feature directorial debut, You People, is a mixed bag of laughs, annoyances, and cringe-worthy dialogue. That’s not to say that it isn’t worth the watch because there are certainly entertaining elements throughout. However, the film suffers from comedy sketch syndrome, in which certain scenes and sequences quickly run their courses and the humor dies faster than it begins.
Ezra Cohen (Jonah Hill) and Amira Mohammed (Lauren London) are two strangers who both share a love of urban fashion and music. When a rideshare mix-up in LA brings them together, they fall in love unexpectedly and begin a love affair in which they both finally feel seen. All is well until their families finally meet. Ezra’s progressive, albeit offensively dim-witted parents (Julia Louis-Dreyfus and David Duchovny) always come on a little too strong. And Amira’s parents (Eddie Murphy and Nia Long) take intensity to an entirely new level. The reason for their wild and childish behaviors? The two can’t seem to get past cultural differences among the families.
Ezra is a 35-year-old broker who’s been down on romance for quite some time. Often falling victim to his socially awkward tendencies, the meek and insecure hipster’s luck begins to turn around when he meets Amira. Hill brings an uncanny likability to his character in a way that feels natural. His chemistry with London’s confident Amira is well-earned, as they both work beyond the limitations of the script to increase the believability of their relationship. Though the romantic moments are scarce, it’s easy to see how this unlikely pair could actually be.
The comedy throughout You People is the element that contributes to the film’s mixed results. Ultimately, it’s what happens when the proclaimed “woke culture” intersects with interracial dating. That’s not to say that the conversations throughout Barris’ film have never happened. But the script pushes them to the extreme, in which they begin to feel silly and ignorant with respect to race relations. An exclamation from Ezra’s mother, for example, in which she excitedly claims that “we are a family of color now” is the style of the humor here. It’s half edgy, half cringe.
The lead-up to the final 30 minutes is where the film struggles to replant its feet in quality. The majority of the movie is spent building friction among the characters when it comes to understanding different perspectives and cultures. Yet, as the script transitions to rebuilding the broken relationships after weeks of chaos, the creativity is lost, and it resorts to standard resolution tactics. Truth be told, it isn’t entirely believable how these groups of people finally put aside their differences to better their circumstances. Instead, the end comes abruptly as it chases after the happy ending it so desperately wishes to achieve.
When it’s all said and done, Barris and Hill’s writing works up to a point. The first two acts provide entertaining (and worthy) commentary about interracial dating and how different cultures may need time adjusting to a change in family dynamics. But at the turning point, the film runs out of steam and results in a safe and by-the-book resolution that feels too abrupt. A star-studded cast commits to the ridiculousness of the script and, thanks to fun and likable performances from Hill and London, You People is an easy watch to satisfy boredom. But audiences have seen it all before, so this mixed bag of laughs and discomforts may not be for everyone.
You People released in select theaters on January 20 and will be available to stream on Netflix Friday, January 27. The film is 117 minutes long and rated R for drug content, sexual material, and language.