REVIEW: You People (2023)

L-R: David Duchovny, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jonah Hill, Lauren London, Eddie Murphy, and Nia Long in YOU PEOPLE — PHOTO: NETFLIX / Parrish Lewis.

Directed by Kenya Barris — Screenplay by Kenya Barris and Jonah Hill.

In SAVE THE DATES, Netflix’s 2023 preview of select significant upcoming films to be released by the streamer this year, the first date and film that Netflix wants us to mark down is January 27th’s release of Kenya Barris’ You People starring Eddie Murphy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and co-writer Jonah Hill. Released on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, You People from Kenya Barris (the co-writer of both 2021’s disappointing Coming to America-sequel and the dull modern remake of Cheaper By the Dozen from 2022) follows Ezra Cohen (played by Jonah Hill), a hip and modern podcaster of Jewish heritage, as he decides takes it upon himself to gain the acceptance of his girlfriend’s family before he asks her to marry him. His girlfriend, Amira (played by Lauren London), is a young Black costume designer who grew up in a Muslim household, and her father, Akbar (played by Eddie Murphy) is staunchly against her taking a white husband. While both Ezra and Amira struggle with each other’s families, the situation goes out of control when the families meet each other.

When I first saw the trailer for You People, I was really excited. Here was a film that felt like a fun, modern update on Meet The Parents with a focus on culture clashes, and its cast was all a-listers. Any comedy with certified all-timers like Eddie Murphy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus is something that you simply must keep an eye on, and, to add to that, this was also a major return to comedy for Jonah Hill, whose major breakthrough back in the day was Superbad. The trailer gave away some of its major scenes, which appeared to feature awkward silences and biting remarks. 

Well, here’s the thing, if you’ve already seen its trailer, then you’ve seen the film. Not only are the most notable moments revealed therein, but the trailer also gives away exactly what this is. Yes, this is a modern update on Meet The Parents with a Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner-spin and some tone-deaf lines from older generations that will remind you of the “I would’ve voted for Obama a third time if I could’ve” from Get Out. For as modern and hip as this wants to be, it is ultimately rather uninventive and derivative. There really isn’t anything here that you haven’t seen before and done better elsewhere. 

You may object to that and state that not everything has to reinvent the genre. If so, you’d be right. But, the thing is, that it doesn’t do the essential things right. It gives me no joy to state that this is a deeply uncomfortable and unfunny film. It is a relatively poorly written rom-com with sometimes quite reference-heavy lines of dialogue that can be difficult to parse. Is there some humor to the uncomfortable situations in a Curb Your Enthusiasm kind of way? Absolutely, and I did chuckle at David Duchovny once in a while (specifically him playing on the piano, his tired portrayal, and his absolutely head-shakingly out-of-the-box fascination with Xzibit), but most of the time it just felt like the film was making a shoddy attempt at redoing what others have previously done much better. It felt surprisingly stale to me. I am also absolutely baffled by the fact that Louis-Dreyfus and Murphy were not given more to work with, and I am disappointed with how thinly written most of these characters were. 

I’m also not sure I bought the central relationship in the film. I’m a big fan of Jonah Hill. I think he’s really funny, but he, a co-writer of the film, should’ve perhaps let someone else play the part because his on-screen persona is not as awkward and unsure as this film needed its male lead to be (I also think he looks a little bit too old for the part and probably should’ve been made up to look a little bit younger — I kept thinking that this part probably should’ve been played by someone like Pete Davidson). Don’t get me wrong, he does sometimes hit on the right type of nervous energy that can heighten the awkwardness of certain scenes, but he is at a place as an actor where you just don’t believe some of the uncertainty he carries himself with. For example, his workplace struggles also felt really unnatural to me. 

I don’t want to be overly critical of this film because it is a feature directorial debut, and it isn’t all bad. Kenya Barris’ film does have some style about it, with its split screens, wipe transitions, and the like, but often it felt like some connective tissue was missing. I do think that Julia Louis-Dreyfus, especially, does the best she can with what she has, and I think there is something positive to be said about how Kenya Barris wants to highlight cultural prejudices. But the pivotal dinner table scene between the two families, which is shown briefly in the trailer, just felt like an offensive, unnecessary, and uncomfortable measuring contest about who could press each other’s buttons the most. Now, I guess you could say that this is pretty accurate to how families can easily be at each other’s throats as their differences are highlighted, but some of the offensive and disparaging lines that are thrown around during the major dinner scene just felt deeply wrong especially given the film’s release date. 

I had hoped that Netflix’s first major A-list release of 2023 would kick off the year with a spark, but, in actuality, they’ve just released a one-note, thinly written, and unfunny modern update on films like Meet The Parents. Frankly, once the film has hit on something, it just does the same thing over and over again until the film is over. It is repetitive, it is familiar, it lets its incredibly talented comedic cast down, and, eventually, you just get tired of it, as the film — at close to two hours — is just too long. It isn’t a complete dud, but I can’t recommend it. It is a premise that is easy to sell, but the execution lets the whole thing down.

4.5 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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