It does feel a bit hypocritical to bemoan, in one breath, the sorry state of the movie industry, when movies are so underpromoted that a movie starring Eddie Murphy, Jonah Hill, and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss can barely warrant a blip on the cultural radar, and, in the next, bash said movie for not being worth worthwhile. Acknowledging that it feels very “the food is terrible — and such small portions” to say so, this is exactly what I’m saying.
You People should be a bigger deal, and it also isn’t very good.
Directed by Black-ish writer Kenya Barris and co-written by Barris and Jonah Hill, You People stars Jonah Hill and Lauren London as an engaged couple whose parents just can’t get along.
Obviously, “disapproving in-laws” has been a staple of rom-com plots almost since the Lumiere Brothers were still alive (to say nothing of the interracial disapproving in-laws), but the hook here is that Jonah Hill’s “Ezra Cohen” is a Jewish guy from West LA, and London’s “Amira Mohammed” is a black girl from Compton. With Kanye wearing a sock over his face telling Alex Jones “There’s a lottttttta things I love about Hitler” still fresh in our memories, a Black-Jewish rom-com “when people stop being polite and start getting real” feels well timed.
And yet You People never really stops being polite or gets very real. Virtually every creative decision in it is so on-the-nose and obvious that it’s mostly a chore. It took me at least four attempts to get through it. Hiring superstar comedic acting talent only to have them parrot Twitter arguments does not make your movie relevant (Netflix’s ad copy describes You People as “an edgy comedy”), it makes it exhausting. We’re already online enough, the last thing we need is comedy that’s Torn From The Discourse.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. You People is essentially the hypebeast version of Pauly Shore‘s Son In Law. Amira and Ezra meet cute when Amira pulls over to check her directions, and Ezra hops in the back of her car, thinking it’s an Uber. Amira is a set designer, and Ezra dreams of one day quitting his boring job in finance to dedicate all his time to his sidegig: co-hosting his hypebeast podcast with Mo, played by Sam Jay.
Remember how in Full House, none of the bits they showed Uncle Joey doing were nearly funny enough to justify people’s reactions to it on the show? Ezra and Mo’s show is kind of like that. Sample banter, from You People‘s opening scene:
EZRA: The president of the United States was smoking Newports! I’m like, this is my guy.
MO: That’s what I love about Barack: it’s like, he’s become such an icon. He’s kind of like Jesus. Like, he could just be whatever version of him you want him to be. Like, my Barack does gay stuff sometimes, but only when he’s on coke, you know what I’m saying?
Obama fan-fiction was weird while Obama was still in office, and it’s even weirder now. The kinda-gay-on-coke Jesus Obama of Mo’s fantasies is, I guess, kind of deliberately weird. So I guess that’s something? Yet mostly this scene feels like some focus group-triangulated calculus of, what’s the safest possible political opinion to hold? That’s right, that Barack Obama was cool.
This is what the makers of You People chose for the opening of the movie, and they’ve presented it as if these are two people just gettin’ real and lettin’ it rip. Nothing like getting vulnerable and admitting only the safest things in the world! (Yes, Obama has a Netflix deal of his own, through his production company, Higher Ground, though they did not produce You People).
Ezra describes his podcast as being about “The Culture,” which, to You People‘s credit, Amira’s dad, Akbar, played by Eddie Murphy, does at least challenge him on. “‘The Culture? Really? You’re just gonna take the word ‘Black’ out of there?”
That’s good, and Murphy gets the most actual laughs of any actor in You People. And yet, no one ever questions the basic assumption of the other half of the statement: asking whether they actually mean “culture.” Because it seems like what Ezra is mostly about is commerce.
Is he a cultural connoisseur or merely a consumer? That question is clearly above You People‘s pay grade (or below it), and in its place are the usual hokey culture clash things. Akbar (who used to be named Woody) proudly shows off his kufi gifted to him by Louis Farrakhan to Ezra’s Jewish parents (with Ezra’s father played by David Duchovny), which is sort of a funny premise. In practice, they mostly just go through the motions of arguments that, again, we’ve already mostly heard online. A number of corny bits follow, from Ezra accidentally wearing red to a Crip barbershop, to Akbar forcing Ezra to explain why Ezra loves the song “N**gas In Paris” (proving that the Kanye thing was indeed on the filmmaker’s minds), all of it shot in the brightly lit, terminally dull style of a sitcom.
My standard dismissal of the hypebeast phenomenon is that it seems like mostly a bunch of rich SoCal kids who’ve confused buying sneakers and liking hip hop for having a personality. You People does nothing to challenge this assumption, and in fact, it seems to go to some lengths to un-satirically confirm it.
During the late second act falling out (which basically all rom-coms have, usually as a lead-up to the big reconciliation scene, aka the running-through-the-airport/kissing-in-the-rain scene), Amira suddenly realizes how much she misses Ezra. This happens when… she notices his sneakers left under her bed. Aw, his sneakers! At this point, she actually hugs Ezra’s shoes and sighs into her pillow.
This is a movie that has spent basically the entirety of the previous two acts trying to build up Ezra as a genuine, caring guy with feelings and desires and dreams, and yet when push comes to shove, the essence of him can still be contained within a pair of shoes. If I thought there was satire intended here I might say this was genius. Representing a hypebeast as an empty pair of sneakers is an image that’s almost too mean, even for me.
‘You People’ is available now on Netflix. Vince Mancini is on Twitter. More reviews here.