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You People

A modern attempt at something like “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” from the creator of “Black-ish” and co-written by star Jonah Hill, Netflix’s “You People” is a stunning misfire, an assemblage of talent in search of an actual movie. It is one tiny rewrite away from a broad “Naked Gun”-esque parody of comedies that traffic in racial stereotypes and differences. Honestly, most of those ridiculous movies feel more genuine than this relationship comedy, a movie that so rarely rings true it starts to make your skin crawl. No one talks like this. No one acts like this. And if a movie is going to traffic in racial differences like “You People” is so eager to do, it needs to at least strive for something honest to make the jokes feel less than shallow. Otherwise, it’s only playing with hot-button issues, stereotypes, and lame jokes that idiots tell at bars. There are so many talented people that I like in “You People” (and “Black-ish” was very funny for a few years, and much sharper than this movie) that it’s almost startling how deeply unfunny this movie is.

Hill plays Ezra Cohen, the co-host of a podcast with a Black friend named Mo (Sam Jay) about racial differences. It’s one of those “chat about life/issues” podcasts, but even here Barris and Hill’s script sounds wrong right from the beginning. It’s as if they never listened to any podcasts with racial themes, overwriting the scenes with awkward dialogue that sounds so scripted (when the whole idea is that these podcasts are casual, off-the-cuff conversations). It’s also a lame set-up for what’s to come. The film seems like it has to say, “See, this guy has a good Black friend. Don’t worry about him.”

When he accidentally gets into the wrong car, thinking it’s his Uber, Ezra meets Amira Mohammed (Lauren London) and the two start dating. Cut to six months later, when Ezra has decided to marry Amira and so steels himself to ask permission from her parents Akbar (Eddie Murphy) and Fatima (Nia Long). Akbar immediately sizes up Ezra and decides he’s the wrong person for his daughter. He then tries to break Ezra, pushing him into sitcomish incidents designed to make him fail, whether it's putting him on a basketball court, wearing the wrong gang color to a barbershop, or even tagging along on his bachelor party trip. Murphy plays it all insanely straight as if he’s in a drama about racial divisions. I’m all for not winking at the camera, but so many other performers in this film do so that it starts to feel like Murphy is in another one altogether. It’s just one of the broad tonal issues that get away from Barris as a director, who never quite figured out what movie he was making enough to convey it to his cast. No one is on the same page, creating a weird comedic disconnect from scene to scene and sometimes in the same beat.

Of course, there needs to be the other side of the coin in a movie like “You People,” and that’s represented in Ezra’s parents, Shelley (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Arnold (David Duchovny). Duchovny mostly takes a back seat with a dry one-liner or two as Louis-Dreyfus plays the “other problematic parent” to Amira. Admittedly, the angle here is interesting regarding social commentary in that Shelley plays one of those women who sees Black culture in purely superficial terms. Late in the film, Amira claims that Shelley sees her like a new toy, and I wish the film had the guts to explore that idea more—how people like Shelley can be fascinated by Black culture but not in a way that ever seeks to understand it.

Hill and Barris are constantly throwing in these interesting ideas and skipping away from them to the easy, unfunny joke. From its beginning—especially in an early scene of bizarre cameos from legends like Elliott Gould, Hal Linden, and Richard Benjamin—the dialogue in “You People” sounds like it came out of a machine designed to produce weird punchlines. There’s an awkward rhythm to the movie that’s so forced that it made me uncomfortable. It’s not just the dialogue that sounds unrealistic—the film is awkwardly edited to drain its comedic rhythm too. Scenes are cut together with flashy graphics that I think are designed to be edgy but give it the structure of a sketch comedy show instead of an actual movie.

The tragic thing about “You People” is that it’s a good idea with a great cast. It feels like we’re overdue for a comedy about culture clashes when racially diverse couples come together, but this ain’t it. "You People" is just not interested in any of the ideas it raises, always going for the cheap laugh or the inevitable heavy-handed conversation. It's just two hours of bad jokes in search of actual characters. There are bad comedies all the time, but when a script is so off-key that it fails performers as genuinely talented and likable as Hill, Murphy, and Louis-Dreyfus, it hurts a little more than it does with others.

On Netflix today.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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Film Credits

You People movie poster

You People (2023)

Rated R for language throughout, some sexual material and drug content.

117 minutes

Cast

Jonah Hill as Ezra

Eddie Murphy as Akbar

Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Shelley

Lauren London as Amira

David Duchovny as Arnold

Nia Long as Fatima

Sam Jay as Sam Jay

Molly Gordon as Liza

Travis Bennett as Omar

Andrea Savage as Becca

Rhea Perlman as Bubby

La La Anthony as Shaela

Deon Cole as Demetrius

Mike Epps as Uncle EJ

Director

Writer

Cinematographer

Editor

Composer

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