‘You People’ review: Kenya Barris’ worthwhile comedy
It’s good to see that writer-director Kenya Barris has successfully cornered the television market with his sharp brand of culturally astute satire, presented in black and grown-up, and it’s good to see that writer-director Kenya Barris is bringing his trusted brand into the feature-length arena in the form of You People with similarly rewarding results.
Because while the Netflix film, a contemporary take on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, makes no compromises when it comes to calling out hypocrisy and other uncomfortable societal truths, and boasts a hilarious dream cast that includes Jonah Hill, Eddie Murphy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, it eventually succumbs to the very romantic-comedic conventions it seemed to subvert.
The LA-centric screenplay was co-written with Jonah Hill, who plays the bleached Ezra “EZ” Cohen, a Brentwood-raised millennial who works in finance but has her heart in the fun, hip-hop-infused sports fashion podcast he does with his best buddy Mo (comedian Sam Jay).
Destiny occurs when Ezra jumps into the back seat of a car driven by Amira Mohammed (the great Lauren London), a self-possessed fashion designer from Baldwin Hills whom he has mistaken for his ride-sharing driver.
After the awkward start, the two embark on a cute, playful relationship that manages to strike an ethnically comfortable middle ground.
When the time comes to meet the parents, things get messy.
While Ezra’s well-meaning but shudderingly progressive mother Shelley (an absolutely perfect Louis-Dreyfus) embraces the prospect of becoming a “family of color” and prides herself on having hated “Gone With the Wind” a long time ago. we should,” insists father Arnold (David Duchovny), serenading Amira with a really bad rendition of John Legend’s “Ordinary People.”
Meanwhile, it’s Ezra’s turn to squirm as he is icily interrogated by Amira’s strict father, Akbar (Murphy), a proud, kufi-wearing Muslim, who wants to know if the young man hangs around in the hood all the time or does he “just come here for our food and our women?”
As their families continue to meddle, Ezra and Amira’s casual relationship eventually hits a tricky dead end, as does the script, unfortunately.
Having already played all of the inherent racing cards with emphatically funny effect, the film struggles to arrive at a predictably clean, audience-pleasing resolution even after the main characters have determined otherwise, and undermines that winning satirical bite.
It’s an edge that’s also inherent in a vibrant visual style that functions very strongly as a love letter to Los Angeles — one that embraces such underused local landmarks as Baldwin Hills’ sunny Simply Wholesome restaurant, Malibu’s Calamigos Ranch, and venerable barbershop Magnificent Brothers in Leimert includes Park.
And if you have a cast that also happens to include Nia Long as Amira’s equally judgmental mother, Molly Gordon as Ezra’s only slightly more confident gay sister, and a parade of cameos from the likes of Rhea Perlman, Elliott Gould, Mike Epps, Hal Linden, Anthony Anderson and Richard Benjamin, it’s a golden opportunity to break down these walls of the rom-com convention.
Instead, You People storms out the gate with the lit, razor-sharp zipper of a Dear White People, only to hobble across the finish line with all the sharpness of Up With People.
Rated: R, for continuous speech, some sexual material and drug content
Duration: 1 hour 58 minutes
To play: iPic, Westwood; available January 27 on Netflix
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2023-01-26/review-featuring-a-comedy-dream-cast-kenya-barris-you-people-eventually-loses-its-edge ‘You People’ review: Kenya Barris’ worthwhile comedy