Review: Featuring a comedy dream cast, Kenya Barris’ ‘You People’ eventually loses its edge

Eddie Murphy and Jonah Hill in the movie "You People."
(Parrish Lewis / Netflix)

Having successfully cornered the TV market with his acerbic brand of culturally astute satire, richly on display in “black-ish” and “grown-ish,” it’s nice to see writer-director Kenya Barris taking his proven brand to the feature-length arena in the form of “You People” with similarly rewarding results.

Well, rewarding-ish.

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For while the Netflix film, a timely riff on “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” pulls no punches when it comes to calling out hypocrisy and other inconvenient societal truths and boasts a comic dream cast including Jonah Hill, Eddie Murphy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, it eventually succumbs to the very romantic-comedy conventions it seemed intent on subverting.

The L.A.-centric script was co-written with Jonah Hill, who plays bleached-blond Ezra “E-Z” Cohen, a Brentwood-raised millennial who works in finance but whose heart is in the quip-heavy, hip-hop-infused sports and fashion podcast he does with his best buddy, Mo (comedian Sam Jay).


Destiny steps up when Ezra hops into the back seat of a car driven by Amira Mohammed (terrific Lauren London), a self-possessed clothing designer from Baldwin Hills whom he has mistaken for his rideshare driver.

After the awkward start, the two embark on a cute, playful relationship that manages to find an ethnically cozy middle ground.

It’s when the time comes to meet the parents that things get messy.

While Ezra’s well-meaning but cringe-inducing progressive mom, Shelley (a pitch-perfect Louis-Dreyfus), welcomes the prospect of becoming a “family of color” and prides herself on having always hated “Gone With the Wind” way before “we were supposed to,” dad Arnold (David Duchovny) insists on serenading Amira with a really bad rendition of John Legend’s “Ordinary People.”

Ezra, meanwhile, gets his own turn to squirm when he’s icily interrogated by Amira’s stern dad, Akbar (Murphy), a proud, kufi-wearing Muslim who’d like to know if the young man hangs out in the ‘hood all the time or does he “just come up here for our food and our women?”

As their families continue to play interference, Ezra and Amira’s easy rapport ultimately arrives at a tricky impasse, as, alas, does the screenplay.

Already having played all the inherent race cards to pointedly funny effect, the film strains to arrive at a predictably tidy, audience-pleasing resolution even after the main characters have determined otherwise, undercutting that winningly satirical bite.


It’s an edge that’s also inherent in a vibrant visual style that very much functions as a love letter to Los Angeles — one that includes such underutilized local landmarks as Baldwin Hills’ sunny Simply Wholesome eatery, Malibu’s Calamigos Ranch and the venerable Magnificent Brothers barbershop in Leimert Park.

And when you’ve got a game cast that also happens to include Nia Long playing Amira’s equally judgmental mother, Molly Gordon as Ezra’s only slightly more self-aware 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 those walls of rom-com conventionality.

Instead, “You People” busts out of the gate with the lit, razor-sharp zip of a “Dear White People” only to limp across the finish line with all the edge of Up With People.

‘You People’

Rated: R, for language throughout, some sexual material and drug content

Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes

Playing: iPic, Westwood; available Jan. 27 on Netflix