We review Black-ish creator Kenya Barris’ directorial debut You People, starring Eddie Murphy and Jonah Hill.
Reason: A new couple and their families find themselves examining modern love and family dynamics amid conflicting cultures, societal expectations and generational differences in this comedy from Kenya Barris.
Review: Last year, Kenya Barris wrote Disney’s remake of Cheaper By The Dozen, updating the family dynamic to be a multi-ethnic brood including stepchildren and half-siblings. The comedy didn’t quite strike the same chord as Barris’ successful sitcom blackish, but it showed the changing appearance of what families in the 21st century look like. Now, Barris’ directorial debut, You people, takes a more mature look at race and anti-Semitism from a humorous point of view. With Jonah Hill and Eddie Murphy taking top billing, You people is a cute fun update of Guess who’s coming to dinner? for the next generation, although it is not a direct remake of the classic film. Full of comedy and true romance, You people works well, but isn’t nearly as bitingly satirical as it could have been.
What works in You people far outweighs what it doesn’t and is led by the excellent lead from Jonah Hill. As Ezra Cohen, Hill delivers one of his more subdued comedic performances, relying on his timing and delivering more than the broader humor of his previous films. On the heels of his Netflix documentary Stutz, Hill shows off his tattoos and slick, dyed blonde hair as a broker and would-be podcaster who falls in love with Amira Mohammed (Lauren London). The two come from very different backgrounds, but fall in love and decide to get married. This is when their parents come into the picture and define the generational and cultural gap between the young lovers. The chemistry between Hill and London is relaxed and you absolutely buy the pair as a couple. Their scenes are among the cutest in the entire film. But the heavyweights come to play when their parents are on screen.
David Duchovny and Julia Louis-Dreyfus play Ezra’s parents as liberal, wealthy Jewish residents of Los Angeles. Shelley is an excellent character for Louis-Dreyfus, who has had a good run in recent years. She plays Shelley as a loving parent who can’t help but get in her way when cultures collide. Duchovny is solid in a slightly understated role as Arnold, the square dad who can’t help but embarrass himself when he quotes pop culture he thinks is still relevant. On the other hand, Amira’s parents are played by Nia Long and Eddie Murphy. Murphy stars as Akbar Mohammad as a Muslim man who questions black culture, appropriation of white people, and even things like the COVID-19 vaccine. A comedic genius, Murphy gives a very restrained performance, one of the better funny roles he’s played in a long time. Refraining from robbing the camera and prosthetics for real perspective, Murphy makes Akbar a realistic father and challenging in-laws-to-be.
As the film progresses, the struggle to bridge the gap between their two families becomes a roadblock for Ezra and Amira. The film veers into traditional rom-com territory as the wedding planning kicks in as we meet Becca (Andrea Savage), the wedding planner, and Amira’s uncle Demetrius (Deon Cole), a competing party planner. There is the requisite bachelor party and bridal shower as everything leads up to the big day. There are solid supporting performances throughout, especially from Sam Jay as Mo, Ezra’s podcast co-host, as Ezra and Amira try to figure out how to move forward together despite their families. But try as they might, the pair’s hilarious path veers from the biting humor of the film’s first ninety minutes to a more formulaic final act that, while still funny, plays it far safer than I expected.
Still, Kenya Barris’ directorial debut works well because it puts solid actors in roles you wouldn’t expect. We should not be surprised that Eddie Murphy and Jonah Hill, two actors known for their comedy and who have demonstrated dramatic and Oscar-worthy skills, imbue these characters with depth and realism. Barris brought racial conversations to the forefront of his series on the small screen, but in you people the conversation never goes deeper than a surface level conversation. What Barris does very well is make Los Angeles a character all its own, making You People a love letter to the city, just as Damien Chazelle immortalized it in La La Land. Each scene transition is done in a way that highlights locales, landmarks and Barris’ favorite spots showcases modern black culture across the metropolitan area.
You people resonates as a more robust look at race and religion in modern multicultural America than many films, while still keeping things fun. You people would love to strike a chord with Millennials and younger audiences, but I think this movie is going to click more with viewers in the parental age group. Barris has long been adept at telling solid stories with a message but still palatable to mainstream audiences, and this is no exception, but it doesn’t quite stick the landing as it plays it safe at the end. Regardless, the trailers are honest about the tone and humor of this film and don’t give away the funnier moments of the two-hour film. I felt good about it You people, especially the excellent work of Jonah Hill and Eddie Murphy. Kenya Barris makes a strong case for whatever project he plans to direct next, and I hope it’s as balanced as this one.