In recent years, our society has increasingly engaged in a conversation about understanding and being respectful toward other cultures. Some people don't like that. They call it "being woke," as though compassion and empathy are somehow bad things. You People is a comedy centered around this conversation. Humor can be a great way of helping complex subjects go down a little easier. Despite a few effective scenes, the movie fails to dig deep enough to make the impact it wants to.
Ezra (Jonah Hill) is a white Jewish podcaster who meets and falls for Amira (Lauren London), a Black costume designer for TV and film. They love and accept each other unconditionally, despite coming from different worlds. The trouble starts when their parents enter the picture. Ezra's mom Shelley (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) overdoes it trying to appear progressive, seeing only her own perceived nobility when interacting with Amira and her loved ones. His dad Arnold (David Duchovny) keeps bringing up rapper Xzibit in his efforts to relate. Amira's father Akbar (Eddie Murphy) is a devout Muslim whose wife Fatima (Nia Long) shares his dedication to the religion and to Black pride. Conflict between the parents threatens to negatively impact the engagement of their adult children.
In its best moments, You People explores how well-meaning folks can offend one another unintentionally. The movie has a very funny dinner scene where Shelley compares the Holocaust to slavery, Akbar brings up his admiration for Louis Farrakhan, and everything goes way downhill from there. Another good sequence finds Akbar trying to goad the hip hop-loving Ezra into saying the title of a song that has the N-word in it. The implication is that Ezra has no problem listening to that word in music and would likely have no trouble speaking the title among white friends.
Sequences like that are few and far between, though. Too often, the screenplay by Hill and director Kenya Barris goes for obviousness, as when Shelley accidentally rips off a Black woman's wig. You People also has a frustrating tendency to play it safe too much of the time. Overall, it doesn't go as deep as it could. A picture like this, tackling this subject matter, should be fearless in pushing boundaries to provoke the audience into thought. Much of what's here is surface level and predictable, never truly diving into the unconscious prejudices even the most liberal individuals can have. The plot consequently builds to a predictable conclusion that relies on two characters giving overwritten speeches about what they've learned.
Intermittent laughs can definitely be found, and the performances are very good. Hill and London build a nice chemistry together, while Louis-Dreyfus reinforces her ability to drop a one-liner with precision timing. The best thing in the movie is Eddie Murphy, who is hilarious playing it straight. He makes Akbar's judgmental personality and suspicion of Ezra funny in a very real kind of way. This is one of his best roles.
You People is easy to watch. It's a pleasant, well-meaning film with a wonderful cast that isn't as edgy as it thinks it is. I have to give it credit for taking on this topic in the first place. Nevertheless, addressing the topic successfully requires making the viewer uncomfortable, which just doesn't happens here.
out of four
You People is rated R for language throughout, some sexual material, and drug content . The running time is 1 hour and 57 minutes.