San Francisco Chronicle
Guess what’s coming to Netflix? Not laughs
“You People” is a romantic comedy that presents a white man and a Black woman who love each other and want to get married, but their families get in the way. The film suggests that the problems they face are not unusual, that this is a comic snapshot of the way things really are.
But the movie, co-written by Jonah Hill and director Kenya Barris, is neither funny nor real.
Lovers Ezra (Hill) and Amira (Lauren London) face obstacles, namely his mother and her father. Ezra’s mom (Julia LouisDreyfus) is annoying in that she loves her future daughter-in-law because she’s Black, or at least loves the idea of her. She sees her as Black first and as a person second.
By contrast, Amira’s dad (Eddie Murphy) is a problem in that he hates his future son-in-law because he’s white. And, as is strongly implied, it doesn’t help that the prospective son-in-law is Jewish — dad is also a follower of Louis Farrakhan, the head of the Nation of Islam, who has made antisemitic statements over the years.
Right off, the situation seems a little imbalanced. If somebody likes you only because of your race, that could be seriously irritating. But if they hate you for your race, that’s unquestionably worse.
If Barris and Hill wanted to present the extremes of America’s racial divide, they shouldn’t have made Mom a wellmeaning but ridiculous person who keeps talking about how much she adores Black culture. Otherwise, the movie threatens to leave the impression that the biggest impediment to racial harmony in the United States is liberal Jewish ladies who sometimes say the wrong thing.
Rather, they should have gone the other way and made her a tiki-torchcarrying racist. As we have found out in the last six years, it’s not as if we don’t have any in this country.
Of course, it’s unlikely that a romantic comedy would want to present a flaming racist — that wouldn’t be funny. But, if so, then why make Amira’s father dislike Jonah Hill because of his race? Even Eddie Murphy can’t make that amusing.
Indeed, it might even border on offensive. “You People” puts the onus of racial animus on a Black character, while leaving the white characters completely innocent. Or perhaps it’s offensive in the other direction, in that it normalizes the father’s racial and religious animus by placing it in a supposedly comic context.
The truth is, “You People” is too confused to be offensive — too inconsequential to merit that level of engagement. But it’s certainly disappointing, virtually from its opening minutes.
Ezra and Amira meet and immediately dislike each other. But then they go on a date, and guess what happens? A montage sequence! We don’t see them actually getting to know each other. Rather, we see them in a series of situations, laughing with increasing intensity, while the soundtrack blares, until finally they land in bed.
The movie skips over how or why they came to love each other, and so we come away with no sense of their relationship, no guess as to their emotional investment, and no conception of what binds them together. Later, when the family pressures start mounting, we have no stake in their union and no understanding of what would be lost if they were to break up. Save for the personalities of the actors, the two are entirely generic.
It didn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t be this way. It has been 56 years since “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” Think of all the happy interracial marriages America has seen since then, their joy, their struggles, the children they produced. We should be making better movies on this subject, not worse.