You People Brings Cringe not Comedy to Social Commentary
You People, the story of an interracial couple in Los Angeles, is a satire that takes a black-and-white approach to comedy. Yes, Eddie Murphy, Jonah Hill and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are comedic royalty, and seeing them riff on screen is never less than pleasant, but this Netflix release goes too far in some instances and not far enough in others.
Viewers with a long memory will remember the original interracial romantic comedy, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, in which a Black man arrives at his girlfriend’s house to literal gasps. It was the main inspiration for Get Out, as well as other interracial romances like Jungle Fever and Joy Luck Club. Less a remake than a reimagining, You People –directed by Black-ish creator Kenya Barris– has taken the family recipe and added a full-course meal of cringe.
When we meet Ezra Cohen (Hill), he’s being questioned about his tattoos at temple with his Jewish family– skin ink is prohibited in the Torah and in Jewish cemeteries. But Ezra knows what he likes and follows his gut when he asks out Amira Mohammed (Lauren London), a Black Muslim woman who looks past their differences and decides they should spend every second of the day together in pillow forts and the coffee shops of L.A. That is, until she “meets the parents.”
Over dinner, Ezra’s mother Shelley (Dreyfus) spends a good 10-minutes saying she’s not a racist and his father Arnold (David Duchovny) talks about his obsession with Pimp My Ride, assuming that will earn him brownie points. Hey, at least he doesn’t bring up his love of basketball. Oh, wait…he does. Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse, Arnold says Magic Johnson was the most talented basketball player he’s ever seen. Yikes!
Most of the movie boils down to a bunch of people saying racist and racist-ish stuff that no one would say in real life. Ezra and Amira survive their dinner -barely- only to arrive at another sit-down with Amira’s mother Fatima (Nia Long) and father Akbar (Murphy), who confronts him over his “Black outfit.” Both families try to sabotage their relationship, which gets repetitive when every single argument has to do with the other’s culture. The main problem here comes from the inane and surprisingly tone-deaf script, written by Barris and Hill. It’s not clever and it makes no sense, which is bad enough, but every line of dialogue is supposed to teach us something about how Black and white folk are different and couldn’t possibly get along if we spent two hours at a dinner table.
Tack on a wildly misguided and overlong scene wherein Ezra talks about color, and things go from bad to worse. He wants to make a living talking about “the culture,” doing a podcast with his best friend Mo (Sam Jay). Their exchanges are quite funny, such as when discussing Ezra’s relationship with Amira, and how the ring he got her is too small. They decide to tell her it was passed down by his grandmother from the Holocaust. The levity is lifted when things veer into homily and race becomes the topic, again. It might be the point of the film, but this touchy subject is continually handled with the grace of a stand-up yelling at the crowd.
There’s an entire sub-genre of films in which white and Black people learn to accept each other for who they are. If these issues are gonna get played for laughs, the call-outs better hit or at least make us think. The conversations deserve to be had, but not in a way that’s mean-spirited or simplistic, even satirically. The crass, close-minded You People just goes to show how far we still have to go. Maybe someday interracial couples will be “no big deal,” as Ezra theorizes on his podcast, but the very existence of this over-reaching rom-com only highlights the problem.
Read Luberto’s review of the other big streaming romantic comedy of the week, Shotgun Wedding, here.
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