[Screen It]


(2023) (Jonah Hill, Lauren London) (R)

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Comedy: A white Jewish podcaster and a black Muslim costume designer hope that their polarizing parents don't end up dooming their new romantic relationship.

In a typical rom-com sort of "meet cute" way, L.A.-based broker Ezra (JONAH HILL) ends up accidentally meeting costume designer Amira (LAUREN LONDON) and the two hit it off. They quickly become a couple, much to the surprise of Ezra's podcast partner, Mo (SAM JAY), who doesn't believe white and black people can truly be harmonious due to long-ingrained cultural differences.

That's put to the test when Ezra introduces Amira to his out-of-touch Jewish parents, Shelley (JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS) and Arnold (DAVID DUCHOVNY), and she later introduces him to her Muslim parents, Akbar (EDDIE MURPHY) and Fatima (NIA LONG).

The latter aren't happy with their black daughter dating a white guy, and his parents try too hard to show Amira that they're hip with all things related to black culture and the being black experience in general. All of which results in the young couple trying to figure out how to deal with all of that, including the mounting pressure it puts on their relationship.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10

Back when "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" was released in late 1967, anti-miscegenation laws in the U.S. had only recently been overturned by the Supreme Court earlier that year all while racial tension and unrest were building.

One of, if not the first, films to depict interracial relationships in a positive light, I can only imagine how controversial it was when it came out and depicted the titular event where the parents of a white woman and a decade-older black man discussed whether it would be proper or prudent for those two to marry.

Now, nearly -- gulp -- six decades after that film was released, there's still racial tension, but nowhere near the same degree or intensity as back then. And interracial relationships -- and inter-religious ones -- are common enough that nearly no one but the most racist out there bats an eye.

Writer/director Kenya Barris (creator of the TV sitcom "Black-ish") and co-writer Jonah Hill seem to have different thoughts about that in their updated version of that old Tracy/Hepburn/Poitier story, "You People." In it, Hill plays a white Jewish broker in his mid-30s who meets a black Muslim costume designer (Lauren London) in LA.

Despite their initially but only briefly contentious "meet cute" moment, the two quickly hit it off and don't let their skin color or the religion they were raised with interfere with their romance. In fact, they don't really think about it or the fact that Ezra's black podcast partner (Sam Jay) doesn't believe that whites and blacks can coexist due to long-inherent cultural differences.

The latter comes into play and is tested when the "kids" have to introduce their new significant other to their respective parents. For Ezra's (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and David Duchovny), that's overcompensating in trying to show they're hip with such a relationship and are down with all things related to being black in America, much to Ezra's embarrassment.

For Amira, that's having her proud Muslim parents (Eddie Murphy and Nia Long) not understanding what she sees in this white man who -- despite that earlier stunned reaction to his mom's behavior -- acts out similarly with his faux black cultural appropriation.

And that finally leads to a dinner where all are present and things spiral out of control in an "our people suffered more than your people" sequence that's simultaneously supposed to be funny and, well, educational I guess?

The issue -- one among many -- is that Barris and Hill don't bring anything new to the debate or shed any sort of different light on the subject matter. It doesn't help that what might have felt timely back in the '60s feels late to the game and outdated here.

Yes, there's still plenty of room to go regarding race relations in America, but everything feels forced rather than organic. Which also applies to the comedy elements as well as the characters and the portrayal of them. For instance, Hill's character goes into buffoonish, repeated white lies sitcom character mode whenever with Murphy's.

That simply doesn't jive with how he behaves at other moments (when he's otherwise wise to black culture), especially after bristling at his mom's somewhat similar behavior Thus, he doesn't come off as a real character -- I get it, it's a comedy, but still -- and consequently we don't really care about him or his relationship with Amira. Or anyone for that matter, all of which makes the preachy thematic material moments, well, even preachier.

Had things been funnier, that and other problems might not have been a big issue. But the big laughs are few and far in between, the characters feel like pawns to deliver the subject matter rather than real people, and the whole thing oddly feels several decades too late. Unlike its predecessor which was ahead of its time. "You People" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Posted January 27, 2023

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