With a powerhouse comedic cast including Jonah Hill, Eddie Murphy and Julia-Louis Dreyfus, not to mention black-ish creator Kenya Barris behind the camera, You People seems to have a potent formula for big laughs and biting satire. But the screenplay, co-written by Barris and Hill, proves to be a disservice to the talented cast of this unofficial (but easily recognizable) update of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner for the podcast generation and hip-hop culture aficionados.
Hill plays Ezra, a stockbroker in his mid-30s whose overbearing mother Shelley (Dreyfus) wants nothing more than for her son to settle down with a nice Jewish girl. But Ezra, who can’t even be bothered to wear his yarmulke to the synagogue for a Yom Kippur service, has nothing in common with the candidates his mother tries to connect him with, and those girls wonder why “a Jew from West Los Angeles” spends so much of his time trying to become a successful podcaster. It’s not until a ride-share mishap connects Ezra with fashion designer Amira (Lauren London) that the allure of romance becomes a priority.
Six months later, the time has come for Ezra to bring Amira home to meet his family, an experience he dreads long before Shelley opens the door and begins fawning over Amira’s hair and nails, and trying to start a discussion about police brutality toward Black citizens. “I’m just going to put this out to the group and see how it lands,” she says, and it lands about as well as you might expect, much to Ezra’s abject horror. These cringe-worthy conversations become a running theme, as Shelley’s overzealous attempts to “connect” with Amira turn every social interaction into a nightmare. Not that Ezra fares much better: when he decides to ask permission from Amira’s parents to marry their daughter, he invites them to lunch at Roscoe’s House of Chicken ‘N Waffles and splutters about how any potential offspring he and Amira might produce would potentially be in the same league as other mixed-race celebrities like Mariah Carey, Derek Jeter and Malcolm X.
This tone-deaf introduction does little to endear Ezra to Amira’s stern, devout Muslim father, Akbar (Eddie Murphy), but it pales in comparison to the first family dinner, where Akbar’s mention of Louis Farrakhan raises Shelley’s ire. As the conversation escalates into an argument over whether or not the enslavement of Black people compares to the Holocaust, Ezra’s desperate attempts to salvage the evening only hasten its descent into chaos. It’s the best scene that You People has to offer, but its arrival before the end of the film’s first hour results in a second half of diminishing returns and recycled setups and payoffs. There are few actors more adept than Hill at turning cringeworthy scenarios into big laughs, but even his talents feel stretched to the breaking point. Dreyfus is regrettably stuck in the same boat, with the film asking little more of her than to hit the same notes in scene after scene; she nails it, naturally, but it feels like the film is barely scratching the surface of what Dreyfus can contribute.
As for Murphy, he’s phenomenal in this understated performance, with a deadpan delivery and mostly expressionless face revealing a side of the legendary comedian rarely glimpsed before. There’s great chemistry between Murphy and Hill, but the script’s insistence on repeating the same beats — Akbar puts Ezra into an uncomfortable situation in order to reveal his ignorance of the Black experience in America, and delights in watching the eager-to-please young man squirm — starts to wear mighty thin. You People‘s final stretch abandons the humor altogether and leans heavily into full rom-com territory (complete with an absurdly over-the-top conclusion), thus depriving viewers of the one element that has made it mostly bearable up to that point, marking an unfortunate ending for a film that started out with such promise. At least there are some genuine, well-earned laughs to be had along the way.