Greetings world and all who inhabit it!
Several months ago (or has it been a year?), I decided to step away from blogging to pursue my dream of writing a novel. I didn’t anticipate a long hiatus. Though as any creative person will tell you, writing a book isn’t easy. Writing the first draft of a book is even harder. While the book is in progress, I figured I’d check in once in a while and give my thoughts on a movie, tv show, or book that I think deserves some attention, whether that attention is good or not so good.
To commemorate the return of the Cosmic Night Owl, we’ll be looking at a straight-to-streaming movie that has something important to say, but doesn’t have enough meat on its bones to convey it in a way that feels interesting and fresh. That film is You People, a Netflix original directed by Kenya Barris and written by Barris and Jonah Hill, who plays the character of Ezra. Ezra is a broker/podcaster who meets Amira (Lauren London), an aspiring fashion designer, following an Uber-related mishap. A charming romance blossoms between the two, and six months into their courtship, they decide to get married. There’s only one problem–they haven’t met each others’ families. And thus, we have the com of our rom-com: a series of verbal blunders, cringy communications, and cultural tensions as Ezra’s white Jewish family (with parents played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and David Duchovny) and Amira’s black Muslim family (with parents played by Eddie Murphy and Nia Long) try coming together to celebrate the union of this unlikely-ish pair.
I decided to watch this film for two simple reasons–Jonah Hill and Eddie Murphy. Both actors have shown to have dramatic and comedic talent. Having the two play off one another, in an R-rated culture-clash comedy no less, is an idea that could potentially work both on paper and on screen. And on that end, the film succeeds….for the most part. The premise they’re working with isn’t anything new. It’s a bare bones recycling of Look Who’s Coming to Dinner–the tale of an interracial couple whose families must learn to overcome their prejudices for the sake of their children. You People may not have anything new to add to the formula, but the comedic chemistry between its two male leads makes for some fun interactions and humorously awkward situations.
The comedy is a series of hits and misses. Not all of the jokes land. The ones that don’t aren’t cringingly bad, and the ones that do land hard. I’m the type of person who’s more likely to laugh out loud at a comedy in a theater full of people than by myself at home. There were moments throughout this movie that made me chuckle, a rarity. So if a film is able to get that type of reaction out of me while I’m sitting in my living room, I figure it’s doing something right. That being said, the comedy isn’t the film’s strong point. It’s the romance.
Jonah Hill and Lauren London have a charming, infectious energy about them. They talk like real people having real conversations. Their chemistry is on point, and, most importantly, it feels one hundred percent genuine. Sure they’re not perfect–Ezra has a tendency to not tell the whole truth, while Amira can get needlessly confrontational–but they’re a pair worth rooting for. Admittedly, I do have a soft spot for interracial couples. I’m a product of an interracial union and am technically in an interracial relationship myself, so maybe my bias is casting a shadow over my perception of these characters. But screw it. They’re a cute couple and I cared about seeing them happy and together in the end.
Also, I have to give credit where credit is due. Mainstream comedies have a tendency to veer into outrageousness. Not just any kind of outrageousness. I’m talking about the Farrelly brothers-brand of outrageous, filled with raunch and gross-out humor and over-the-top hijinks galore. Think Meet the Fockers (2004) or Vacation (2015). You People isn’t a typical mainstream comedy, but it certainly has the look of one, and is written in a way that gives windows of opportunity for those types of shenanigans to occur. Instead, script writers Barris and Hill keep things grounded. The film plants its feet firmly in the real world, and I respect it for that.
What keeps the movie from being anything exceptional is its themes, which are hammered in so explicitly and so frequently that your ears may be ringing by the credits roll. The crux of the film is the conflict, the culture clash. The meeting of warring perspectives, of Amira’s I’m-Black-and-I’m-Proud muslim family and Ezra’s tolerant-but-are-they-really? Jewish family. The clash begins how you think it would, with the white protagonists nervously unsure of how to talk to black people–using the “Obama and Malcolm X were so cool” trope as an ice breaker–and the black protagonists getting showing offense. But then it’s just a lot of that back and forth for the rest of the movie. Not much nuance is added to the characters or their stories. They argue about race, then something funny happens. They talk more about race…then something funny happens. Even then, it doesn’t have much to say on the issue aside from what we the viewers hear of it every day on the news, in podcasts, on Twitter, etc.
The original Look Who’s Coming to Dinner was groundbreaking for its time. It directly confronted issues like racism and implicit prejudices and interracial relationships, and did so in a clever and humanized way. You People attempts to do something similar, albeit through a more light-hearted and comedic lens. The sum of its good parts gets weighed down by the heavy-handedness of its approach. By the halfway mark, any meaningful points the film is trying to make start to feel redundant, and the unrelenting redundancy renders the message exhausting.
Another thing that bugged me is that the conflict doesn’t really resemble a class of cultures, but rather a clash of personalities. Ezra’s mother is an ignorant woman who desperately pretends not to be. Amira’s parents are very standoffish. Eddie Murphy’s character, despite his even temperament and soft-spokenness, is a jerk to Ezra from the moment they meet, and is the type to get easily offended by anything. Don’t get me wrong, conversations about race and prejudice and whatnot are uncomfortable conversations to have, especially in today’s world, when any attempt at a mature and nuanced discussion about race is automatically deemed racist. But the way these characters try to communicate with people not of their race feels forced. It would be different if there was a clear ideological or socioeconomic divide, which would make the clash have more of an impact. But all of the characters seem derived from the same ideological spectrum, which makes their actions come off as petty and shallow.
You People tries to kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand, it wants to tell a cute romantic story with a few laughs thrown in. On the other hand, it wants to convey a message suited for our modern times. While the rom com part works just fine, the message part does not. Its incessant preaching weighs the quality down. Not enough to kill my enjoyment of it, though just enough to keep it from being anything great. It’s a safe comedy. And if safety is what you’re looking for, you’ll probably like this fine, like I did.
Just remember to brace yourself.
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