The Sunday Review: You People
Author's Note: On Sundays (when I have time), I will review a piece of media I've recently watched, read, or listened to. Today's review is on "You People."
Here's a quick summary from Wikipedia without spoilers: "You People is a 2023 American romantic comedy film directed by Kenya Barris, which he co-wrote with Jonah Hill. The film features an ensemble cast that includes Hill, Lauren London, David Duchovny, Nia Long, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Eddie Murphy. Its plot focuses on an interracial and interreligious couple, namely a white Jewish man and a Black [Nation of Islam] NOI woman, and how their families reckon with modern love amid culture clashes, societal expectations and generational differences. Set in the Los Angeles area, two Millennials meet by chance and go into uncharted waters in their dating lives."
I watched this with a close friend the other day, as we were looking for a move to kill time.
Watching You People didn't just kill time; it killed my brain cells. It made me never want to talk about American race relations again.
What I liked about the movie:
It was based in LA, where I live, so I could see many iconic areas and cultural landmarks.
I loved the chemistry between Ezra (Jonah Hill) and Mo (Sam Jay), at least initially. Those two just riffing on the podcast was pure vibes. It was a good start to the movie that unfortunately went downhill.
Amira (Lauren London) and Ezra make a cute couple! I loved their love for one another - I wish the two actors could have had a better plot and dialogue to elevate their bond rather than diminish it.
Akbar (Eddie Murphy) is a troll and a hardass, and Shelley (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) was the ultimate Karen. These two played their roles well and were unfortunately let down by mediocre writing and a piss-poor plot.
What I didn't like about the movie:
If the movie aimed to produce new insight into race relations in America, it completely failed. Yet, I found sincerity in the insincere portrayal of the racial dynamics in the film's narrative. (I will return to this point at the end.)
After the strong beginning of the movie between Ezra and Mo, I found their latter discussions about "the culture," which is black culture, to be reductive and outright cringe. Specifically, it was extremely cringe how they talked about what "type" of Drake he needed to be given his love life issues. I don't like how they reduced Drake's music to being a commodity to don when needed. Drake isn't representative of all black music (far from it!), but I felt after that interaction, any references they made to black culture were dispassionate and inauthentic. These two namedrop shit just to come across as tastemakers and relevant when in reality, they portray themselves as dilettantes and posers.
At the very least, they could have quoted a specific song from Take Care, Views, or Certified Lover Boy to drive home their point. For example, Marvin's Room is the best song to fit Ezra's mood from Take Care album. ("Cups of the Rosé..." anyone?) (For a great movie where the characters artfully demonstrate their taste and snobbery in music, watch High Fidelity (2000)!)
One of my biggest grievances with the movie is Ezra's character itself. In the beginning, he's well-versed and an authentic appreciator of "the culture," yet not too further in the movie when he meets actual black people in the form of Amina's parents, Akbar (Eddie Murphy) and Fatima (Nia Long), he's wildly inappropriate and out of his depth. Sure, you could chalk it up to him being shy about meeting Amina's parents, but his comments to them are so bad he comes across as if he's never interacted with black people before! His character development is insanely incoherent, and it takes a lot on the viewer's behalf to accept the premise that he's just incredibly nervous to meet the girlfriend's mother and father. Yet, my number one gripe with this movie is how it betrays its sincerity through an insincere ending.
The movie's climax results in Amira and Ezra calling off their wedding after they both feel they cannot get past their parents' prejudices and microaggressions about their different cultures, respectively.
It resulted in the most honest and raw moment of the movie, where Ezra reflects on his failed engagement to Amira on his podcast with Mo three months later:
Ezra opines, “We really do live in two worlds. There’s no escaping it. I was raised by hip-hop s—t, it’s made me who I am. But with that, I still wasn’t prepared for the realities of a world I’m just not from. I’ll always be an outsider. … If you love something, I think it’s best you keep it for yourself.”
(This is just a portion of his full monologue (which could be considered a soliloquy) - unfortunately, I couldn't find the full clip on YouTube, but if I do, I will update this post with it!)
It was the most honest portion of the film; as much as I disagree with what he's saying, I completely understand where he's coming from, as his mother's prejudices have wounded him so that he might never heal. It was a rare moment in the movie where I actually felt like I was watching Art, rather than the Marketing of the film directors' pretensions of having unique cultural insight into modern-day American race relations.
I digress. Back to the film - the ending completely undermines this Ezra's sincere moment.
The parents come to their senses about how fucked their behavior has been towards their child's love interest, and somehow Akbar and Shelley reconcile (off-screen!) and conspire to reunite Amina and Ezra.
They succeed, and the two get happily married. The end!
I hated the ending because of its insincerity. There's no attempt to see how Shelley and Akbar grapple with the fallout individually, and there's no on-screen reconciliation between the two parents driving the horrible racial divide between their children who deeply love each other. We skip past all of that necessary character and plot development to a hastily crafted ending because movies like this aren't allowed to end on a bad note.
It fucking sucks.
Ironically, however, the insincere ending of You People is a sincere depiction of how insincere American discussions on race relations are in our present day! This movie unintentionally captures how real our actual debates on races actually happen in real life. There's no true attempt to reconcile deep, persistent racial divisions - it's just a bunch of empty rhetoric and bullshit, pre-conceived talking points that magically fast-forward to a kumbaya in some far-distant yet coming-any-day-now future.
Hell, taking this point to its logical conclusion - my earlier comment about how this movie makes me never want to talk about race publicly or privately reflects the true success of the film: We can never truly solve racial divisions in this country, but we can find and market new ways to encourage people to dance around or avoid the core underlying issues about race in socially-approved ways.
QED, You People actually "solves" the American race relations discourse.