An updated version of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner with some additional commentary on cultural appropriation and white privilege, You People is the kind of film you will know you should love or hate based on the trailer alone. I thought it looked fun, I watched the film, and I had fun with it.
Jonah Hill plays Ezra, a Jewish man who is working in a financial role that he doesn’t really enjoy. What really makes him happy is a podcast he co-hosts with his best friend, a woman named Mo (Sam Jay), all about the commonalities and differences between white and black culture. Ezra also really enjoys an encounter with Amira (Lauren London), a beautiful black woman, that leads to a serious relationship, but that emphasises the differences between them more than any chat on a podcast could. Ezra gets a hard time from Amira's parents, played by Eddie Murphy and Nia Long, while Amira finds herself made uncomfortable and unhappy by the oblivious stereotyping and insensitivity of Ezra's parents, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and David Duchovny.
Directed by Kenya Barris, who has written numerous features and directed some TV show episodes before this, You People is a fun mix of Meet The Parents and that classic movie I mentioned in the first sentence. It's not as good as Meet The Parents, which puts everything in place and escalates the comedy in a much better way, but it's certainly a lot better than Guess Who (the remake/update of Guess Who's Coming To Dinner that tried to mine the topic for laughs without giving enough time to the more serious side of the situation). The biggest problem seems to be that the script was co-written by Barris and Hill, with the latter feeling like some idealised version of a white ally who knows enough of the music and fashion, and can play basketball well enough, to be viewed as safe and cool when compared to other "tourists". Maybe that side of things came from Barris, but it doesn't feel that way.
Am I saying that it hits a number of surprisingly similar beats to the much-maligned Soul Man? I might be. People will perhaps tell me off for that, but when you think of a few key scenes, they're either an inversion or recreation of moments from that movie. But I guess it's okay, because Barris is at the helm, and a number of transitions are given a funky, graffiti, style. And we get shown a lot of cool footwear. Seriously, WHAT is going on with the focus on the footwear here? Our two leads are defined by their footwear, they're used to show the passage of time in a relationship, and sneakers even tie in to the grand finale. Maybe finding true love is just meeting someone else who loves the same Nikes as you do and being brave enough to ask "shall we just do it?"
Hill and London are good in the lead roles, with the latter doing the important job of lighting up the screen and showing herself as a beautiful and strong young woman who has chosen someone that makes her happy. Despite the strand that allows him to be an ideal cool guy, Hill is a lot of fun when cringing at events unfolding around him, usually caused by one set of parents or another. That's where you get the real treats though. Long doesn't get as much to do, but Murphy enjoys another great role in what might yet be another resurgence in his lengthy film career. He's a stern figure for almost every minute, and enjoys trying to prove that Ezra isn't the right man for his daughter. Duchovny is hilarious with the way his character is always grasping for cultural references to use and rapper names to drop into conversation, but it's Louis-Dreyfus who gets more of the laughs, being the kind of person who doesn't realise how inappropriate they are being when trying to overcompensate for their ignorance of black culture. Both of the characters played by Louis-Dreyfus and Duchovny seem unable to view Amira as a strong and gorgeous woman without viewing her through an additional filter because of her skin colour. Jay is an extra shot of energy in her scenes, and there are a few effective bits of scene-stealing from Molly Gordon, in the role of Ezra's sister (a young lesbian who is already very used to their parents making them cringe).
You People is most interesting when showing people unaware of their own behavioural changes, or when Ezra is made to think more about his ability to comment on cultural aspects that he may never be fully immersed in. There are a good selection of laugh throughout, a number of decent soundtrack choices, and the runtime just manages to avoid feeling overlong, despite coming in at just under the two hour mark. It's a well-made comedy that allows some performers to remind you of why they have had such enduring careers. And I look forward to seeing more from London, who has had a decent film career already, but hopefully gets some more central parts after being such a star in this.
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