You People review: Netflix’s star-studded culture clash romcom is a disjointed mess
Former Saturday Night Live castmates Eddie Murphy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, two of the funniest people alive, are reunited and then immediately wasted in You People. A culture-clash romcom wholeheartedly convinced it’s a satire, it marks the feature directorial debut of Kenya Barris – creator of the sitcom Black-ish and its spin-offs, Grown-ish and Mixed-ish. Was this, at some point or another, the concept for a series, too? It certainly feels that way. You People carries the unresolved, disjointed tension of a sitcom that’s been stretched to the two-hour mark.
Louis-Dreyfus and Murphy play Shelley Cohen and Akbar Mohammed, respective parents to Ezra (Jonah Hill) and Amira (Lauren London), a couple whose first interaction involves a mistaken accusation of racial discrimination. The Cohens are liberal and Jewish, and Shelley swears she hated Gone with the Wind “before it was cool”. Akbar experienced a mid-life renewal of his Muslim faith and has a profound distrust of anyone outside of the religion. When Ezra and Amira announce their engagement, both families are plunged into a crisis entirely of their own making.
Louis-Dreyfus long ago perfected the nervous, toothy grin of someone sweatily attempting to hide their own bigotries – it was the centrepiece of her Emmy Award-winning performance on Veep, after all. And, throughout You People, Murphy casually reminds us of his talent by whittling down his performance to its bare bones. There’s a lift of the eyebrow here. An unblinking stare there. That’s all that’s needed. David Duchovny and Nia Long, as Shelley and Akbar’s respective partners, provide reliable backup.
But there are only so many insensitive comments Shelley can make, and only so many opaquely constructed schemes Akbar can spring on Ezra, before You People loses steam. It namechecks points of conflict – white women fetishising Black women’s hair, antisemitism in the Black community, the legacies of slavery and the Holocaust – but skims past them too quickly to say anything of substance. And while Amira talks about the expectations put upon Black women to always be voices of reason and carry the burden of other people’s problems, it’s a little ironic that London is the only cast member who’s never allowed to be weird or have fun.
Really, it’s hard not to wonder what Amira actually sees in Ezra. Hill can easily muster up the bumbling incoherence of a desperate white man, the kind who might turn up to a first date in a rainbow-striped sweatsuit or refer to his daily labours as “grindin’”. He’s also a good enough actor to make Ezra’s love for Amira feel sincere. What he seemingly can’t figure out, despite having co-written the film with Barris, is whether his character is a real guy trying his best, or a parody of one.
On Ezra’s podcast, a weekly discussion on “the culture” shared with his friend Mo (Sam Jay), he at one point offers the damning observation that “when it comes to Black and white people, I don’t think love is enough”. You People treats that statement as if it were a mic drop. But, in the context of this movie, the mic hadn’t even been plugged in.
Dir: Kenya Barris. Starring: Jonah Hill, Lauren London, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Eddie Murphy, David Duchovny, Nia Long. 15, 118 minutes.
‘You People’ is streaming on Netflix from 27 January