By Marc S. Sanders
You People has me wondering how we could have stepped so mind bogglingly far back in social tolerance and understanding. I give people far more credit than the foundations that Jonah Hill and Kenya Barris, who wrote the film together, describe in this movie. (Barris directed, as well.) People cannot be this cruel and stupid, can they? Someone give me hope! Give me assurances, please!!!!!
You People is a send up of the Meet The Parents formula, or more specifically Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? In the latter example, an African-American doctor is brought to the home of his Caucasian fiancée to be introduced to her parents. Later, the woman meets his parents. There is an understandable sense of surprise for the characters in both scenarios. Yet, none of the parties carry the instinct to embarrass each other or allow them an opportunity to lie just to impress and speak with moronic naivety. The film was never catered for big laughs, but rather more towards awareness and understanding.
With a cast that includes Jonah Hill, along with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Eddie Murphy, all well known for huge comedic achievements, You People is designed for the laugh out loud moments. That’s great. It sounds very promising, and it was a movie I was looking forward to watching. However, did the comedy have to come at the expense of stereotyping Black Muslims as angry and intimidating and freely dropping the N-word, while White Jews are dumb, ill informed, clumsy lying cocaine users?
The pattern of Barris’ film is very structured. For every scene of father-in-law to be Eddie Murphy paired with Jonah Hill, there is also a scene on the other side of mother-in-law to be Julia Louis-Dreyfus paired with Lauren London, portraying Hill’s fiancé. Murphy does his comedic best in expression and stature with or without dark sunglasses on, while Hill sits very uncomfortably next to him, whether it is in the car or at his bachelor party getaway in Las Vegas where his buddies ask him to call his cocaine dealer. Cuz, you know, all Jewish guys have a go-to cocaine dealer on speed dial.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus does her comedic best trying to impress Lauren London by acting aware of what a black person has had to endure and over-complimenting her hairstyles and appearance. She’s ready to go all “Karen” at the front desk of a luxury spa when she suspects racial discrimination towards London’s appearance. Later, she will commit slapstick sin by accidentally pulling off the hair weave extensions of one of London’s friends.
I refer to comedic best because the two SNL alumni are so good on camera even if their script is nothing but insulting junk, devoid of validity. Their expressions are reminiscent of Murphy’s best stand up routines and Louis-Dreyfus’ hilarious sitcom portrayals. However, these collection of scenes are written with an obnoxiously overabundance of cringe and discomfort. How these characters treat one another is utterly disgraceful.
Upon an initial meeting at the dinner table, a comparison of suffrage by means of black slavery vs the Holocaust is brought up. You know what? Neither incident within our world history is worse than the other. They’re both horrendous and could never merit comparison. Yet, here they are being presented as punchlines for outrageous comedy in terms of one upmanship. Murphy’s character, along with Nia Long as his wife, will announce their admiration for Louis Farrakhan, while Julia Louis-Dreyfus will point out the speaker’s antisemitic doctrines. In response, she will accidentally light fire to Murphy’s prized Muslim hat gifted by the minister. If I were to translate this mathematically, Black Muslims celebrating antisemitic gospel equates to White Jews as insensitive klutzes.
You People is nothing but one insulting moment after another. In every scene, someone is the punchline at the expense of the writers’ unfair and incorrect blanket approach categorization for what these two demographics must be like. What a huge misfire.
These are some of my favorite comedic actors. Lauren London even looks like she can hold her own in scenes with her co-stars. The potential for talent is hard to match here. There could have been debates as to who should officiate the wedding and what themes the reception should have, or what the bride and groom should wear. Imagine an argument over the cake topper. Actually, as I recall there are moments like this in the film. Nevertheless, they dwindle into conclusions that demonstrate Black Muslims should be feared while White Jews are clueless morons.
As a conservative Caucasian Jew myself, none of what is depicted in You People could be further from the truth. I’ve known a few Muslim people and I never caught this kind of vibe from them or who they associate with, or what they practice. I’ve also never felt uncomfortable in their presence.
The failure of this film lies within the insensitivity of its ignorant script. This movie could have demonstrated a clash of cultures. Instead, it relies on moments to squirm at uncomfortably with some of the worst people any of us could ever know.
The next time Jonah Hill and Kenya Barris want to make a movie, they need to read a book and speak with who they select for their subject matter. Even better, just turn on the camera and let Eddie Murphy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus start talking…about anything! They are far more intelligent and creative than anything on display here.