“You People,” a new take on “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” from the creator of “Black-ish” and co-written by star Jonah Hill, is a stunning flop, a collection of talented people looking for a movie to make. It only needs a small change to become a broad parody of comedies like “The Naked Gun” that play on racial stereotypes and differences. Most of those silly movies actually feel more real than this relationship comedy, which doesn’t feel real nearly enough to make your skin crawl.
No one talks like this. Nobody acts this way. And if a movie is going to make jokes about racial differences like “You People” does, it should at least try to be truthful so that the jokes don’t feel so shallow. If not, it’s just playing with hot-button issues, stereotypes, and lame jokes that idiots tell at bars. There are so many talented people in “You People” that I like, and “Black-ish” was a lot funnier and sharper than this movie for a few years, that it’s almost shocking how deeply unfunny it is.
Hill plays Ezra Cohen, who has a Black friend named Mo (played by Sam Jay) and together they talk about how people of different races are different. It’s one of those podcasts where people talk about life and issues, but Barris and Hill’s script sounds wrong from the start.
It’s like they never listened to any podcasts with racial themes, because they filled the scenes with awkward dialogue that sounds so scripted (when the whole idea is that these podcasts are casual, off-the-cuff conversations). It’s also a bad way to set up what’s going to happen next. “The movie seems to need to show that this guy has a good Black friend. Don’t be afraid of him.”
When Ezra gets into the wrong car by mistake because he thought it was his Uber, he meets Amira Mohammed (Lauren London) and they start dating. Six months later, Ezra has decided to marry Amira and is getting ready to ask her parents, Akbar (Eddie Murphy) and Fatima, for permission (Nia Long).
Akbar looks at Ezra and decides right away that he is not the right person for his daughter. He then tries to break Ezra by putting him in situations straight out of a sitcom that are meant to make him fail, like putting him on a basketball court, making him wear the wrong gang color to a barbershop, or even going with him on his bachelor party trip.
Murphy plays it all so straight, as if he were in a drama about racial differences. I agree that you shouldn’t wink at the camera, but so many other actors in this movie do it that it feels like Murphy is in a different movie. It’s just one of the big tone problems that Barris has as a director. He never really knew what kind of movie he was making well enough to tell his cast. No one is on the same page, which makes it weirdly funny from one scene to the next and sometimes even in the same beat.
A movie like “You People” needs to show the other side of the story, and Shelley (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Arnold, Ezra’s parents, do that (David Duchovny). Duchovny mostly stays in the background, but he does have a few funny lines.
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Louis-Dreyfus plays Amira’s “other difficult parent.” Even though this is a social commentary, the angle is interesting because Shelley plays a woman who only sees the surface of Black culture. Late in the movie, Amira says that Shelley looks at her like a new toy. I wish the movie had the guts to explore more how people like Shelley can be interested in Black culture but never try to understand it.
Hill and Barris are always coming up with interesting ideas and then quickly moving on to an easy, not very funny joke. The dialogue in “You People” sounds like it was made by a machine from the start, especially in an early scene with strange cameos from famous people like Elliott Gould, Hal Linden, and Richard Benjamin.
The movie has an awkward beat that feels so forced that it made me feel bad. Not only does the dialogue sound fake, but the film is also cut in a way that takes away from its comedic rhythm. Scenes are cut together with flashy graphics that I think are meant to be edgy but make it look more like a sketch comedy show than a real movie.
“You People” has a good idea and a great cast, which is a shame. We’re due for a comedy about how different cultures clash when people of different races get together, but this isn’t it. “You People” doesn’t care about any of the ideas it brings up. Instead, it always tries to get a cheap laugh or start a heavy-handed conversation.
It’s just two hours of bad jokes that try to be characters but don’t work. There are bad comedies all the time, but it hurts more when a script is so off that it doesn’t work for actors who are as talented and likeable as Hill, Murphy, and Louis-Dreyfus.