Boy meets girl, boy loves girl/girl loves boy, boy/girl’s families yell “Not so fast!”. Not only is this formula as old as film itself, it’s as old as literature. If you boil it down, isn’t that all that Romeo and Juliet was? Now is the time where I point out my usual refrain of “Formulaic does not equal bad”, and it’s true…it’s all about execution, so where does the new Netflix comedy, You People, starring Eddie Murphy and Jonah Hill land? In short, somewhere in the middle.
Ezra (Jonah Hill) is a regular Jewish white guy who spends his time hosting a podcast with his friend Mo (Sam Jay). After countless terrible setups from his over involved mother Shelly (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) a ride-share induced twist of fate lands him in the back seat of Amira (Lauren London) a beautiful African-American woman and, after a few tense moments, the two hit it off. Fast forward a few months and it’s time to meet the parents. Side note, if you’ve already guessed where this is going then you know the formula. Amira’s dad, Akbar (Eddie Murphy), is a proud and vocal member of the Nation of Islam who, like Ezra’s mom, has been trying to set his daughter up with the perfect (in his eyes) match. Speaking of Ezra’s mom, she is a well-off white suburban woman who is VERY proud of her progressive views and will let everyone know just how not racist she is. If it wasn’t bad enough having Ezra and Amira meet each others parents, having the parents meet each other really pushes things over the edge.
Look, stereotypes can be funny, I get it, but it’s also something that can go really wrong or even simply come off as lazy if not handled correctly. Subtlety and originality is the key, I would think. If you haven’t guessed from the above plot synopsis those two things are in short supply throughout You People‘s run time. As a white guy that married into a Hispanic family I can tell you that there are so many hilarious cultural differences that don’t involve your standard stereotypes, not exactly the same I know but the point remains. The film starts out strong but once the families become involved it just seemed to go so over the top. Did Eddie Murphy NEED to be a member of the Nation of Islam with a strong love for Louis Farrakhan? Did Julia-Louis Dreyfus NEED to be an SNL caricature of a faux-progressive? I don’t think so. These factors don’t translate to not funny, thanks mostly to the sheer talent of those involved laughs are frequent and able to be pulled from everything. That being said I think the film would have been more effective if the characters on screen were more like everyday folks, not well off LA caricatures.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get real shall we? Eddie Murphy, Jonah Hill and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in a movie is going to produce laughs. Murphy in particular seemed to be back close to his prime, we’ve seen him excel at drama in recent history but I feel like it’s been a minute since we’ve seen Trading Places/Beverly Hills Cop Murphy. I can’t believe I got this far without mentioning my future ex-wife Nia Long. Now the timeless Ms Long isn’t overwhelmed with things to do here and really serves as a kind of “Yes (Wo)Man” to Murphy’s Akbar, but simply having her in the exchanges adds a sense of calm that is terribly needed at times. Lastly, I can’t leave out Mulder. David Duchovny, who plays Ezra’s dad, is basically an aloof one-note joke (You guys like XZibit?) but I’ll be damned if his charm doesn’t make his addition feel like it matters.
You People feels like a movie that could have been much much more, but is perfectly fine in it’s current state. A talented cast manages to make material that borders on cringe into genuine laughs, but don’t go in expecting a new take on an old tale. It’s Netflix so you know you’re going to add it to your queue anyway and while some may find the material too offensive I think most will have a suitably good time.