Maybe we could use more irreverent but culturally meaningful output on race relations. “You People,” written by Jonah Hill and Kenya Barris, fashions itself such an effort. But really, it is just a millennial version of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” — which is to say, intellectually, emotionally, and artistically vacuous.
“You People” is the story of a love-starved Jewish man named Ezra, played by Hill, and his black Muslim fiancé, Amira, played by the talented Lauren London, and their struggle to make the relationship work despite their different backgrounds.
We first meet Ezra’s family at a Yom Kippur service, where older congregants played by the likes of Hal Linden and the once-great Richard Benjamin act like depraved nincompoops. Then again, every Jew over the age of 40 in this movie is either a sexual deviant or a complete idiot. We also soon learn that American Jewish success is grounded in generational wealth rather than work and tradition, and that Jewish culture — insofar as it even exists — is based on materialism. When Ezra is set up by a woman from his family’s temple, she is, naturally, put off by his lack of interest in money and status.
Amira does not harbor any of these greedy apprehensions. She encourages Ezra to quit his job in “finance” — boy, everyone hates those guys! — and pursue his dream of being a podcaster. This is the highest calling. Ezra’s business partner, an androgynous lesbian woman of color, is, unlike his bumbling parents, a font of deep wisdom and reliable advice. Ezra, the product of privilege, listens to his partner’s pseudointellectual identitarian gibberish and learns great lessons.
Ezra is the product of a guilt-ridden Jewish family, whose members obsequiously and ham-fistedly fall over themselves to show how open-minded they are about Amira. Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays the clueless mom, Shelley. She is perpetually offending Amira and her family by either overreacting to imaginary racist slights or by saying things she shouldn’t. David Duchovny, who plays Ezra’s dad, a hip-hop-loving podiatrist, doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to say anything interesting. They are, probably like you, racist without even knowing it.
On the other hand, Amira’s parents, Akbar and Fatima, are dignified and successful. The couple, played by Eddie Murphy and Nia Long, also happen to be big fans of antisemitic preacher Louis Farrakhan. This could have been a funny premise if the movie hadn’t been so cowardly. But antisemitism is treated as a harmless, if eccentric, outlook. While Ezra’s parents keep making faux pas about race, Amira’s parents praise a Holocaust denier and accuse Jews of being slave traders. These two problems are treated as equally odious. (If producers really wanted to script a movie about similarly offensive positions, they would pair those who adulate a man who said Hitler was “a very great man” with a family of neo-Nazis. Then again, one doubts audiences would ever accept that Nick Fuentes fans were, though flawed, basically decent people.)
All the characters, of course, are just ludicrous cartoon composites of angry social media cliches. How lazy were the writers? Well, they have Akbar take Ezra to a black neighborhood pick-up game to embarrass him (spoiler: portly 5’7″ white men can jump). Any real meditation on race, especially a funny one, would take work.
Hill and London share some pretty good chemistry. And if the movie focused on the struggles of building a life together despite their cultural differences, it might have been interesting movie. Instead, “You People” — which hooked me with a preview clip featuring perhaps the only funny scene in the movie — is just aggressively offensive. Not because it insults us, but because it pretends to take on the thorny questions of race and faith when in reality it reinforces crude and idiotic stereotypes that divide us.
Now, I would spoil the end of this alleged romantic comedy, but just envision the most cliched third act possible. On his podcast, Ezra finally makes an impassioned speech in which he claims black and white people can never truly understand each other. It’s bad enough that the lesson of the movie is that immutable physical characteristics should define people, but, let’s just say, the movie doesn’t even have the guts to take its premise to a logical conclusion.