Photo by: Charlie Martin
Netflix’s annual release of romance movies for Valentine’s Day has started, with Kenya Barris’ You People being released on Jan. 20 and acting as an appetizer to the main course of movies to come. If You People is any indicator for the rest of the upcoming films, then movie-lovers can expect to be left hungry for more.
The film follows the story of a Jewish man named “Ezra” (Jonah Hill) and a Black Muslim woman named “Amira” (Lauren London) as their romantic relationship progresses. The plot of the film is confusing and leaves viewers wondering what the point of the story is. Unlike other, more successful rom-coms like You’ve Got Mail or Love, Simon, You People has no significant plotline, other than that their families clash over their respective cultural differences. Said cultural differences mainly focus on Ezra’s mother “Shelley” (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) who takes on the stereotypical role of being a white mom who doesn’t understand how to interact with Black people, and Amira’s father “Akbar” (Eddie Murphy), who is skeptical of accepting a white man as being the love interest of his daughter.
While the conception of a film which addresses the issue of cultural differences in relationships is important and relevant, its execution falls flat on its face. The main issue that causes this plot’s depiction to fail is that there aren’t any real challenges to the couple before they meet each other’s families, and even upon the initial meeting, none of the cultural differences seem to bother either Ezra or Amira. Because of this, when Ezra and Amira’s relationship suddenly ends — literally the night before they get married — it feels awkward and out-of-place.
Another issue with the plot is found in the sheer complexity of the personalities in the film, which make it difficult to stand behind, or even like, either of the protagonists. Perhaps the most pertinent example of this is with Ezra. At the beginning of the film, he is sold as being a down-to-earth and honest man, but as the film progresses he starts lying to people around him – like Amira’s father, Akbar – about significant issues, like whether or not he was an avid cocaine user. Although character flaw developments like this are common in romance movies, the progression of these flaws is misplaced and results in Ezra being unlikable.
This brings to mind another major flaw in the film, and that’s a confusion over what exactly the tone is supposed to be. You People is marketed as a “buddy” film and romantic comedy, but the vast majority of the movie discusses serious topics that would feel inappropriate to laugh at. For example, there is a scene where Ezra and Amira’s parents meet together with the couple and a major argument ensues over religious differences between the couple, with Ezra stating that he loves Louis Farrakhan to appease Amira’s father, not realizing that Louis Farrakhan is notoriously antisemitic. Throughout the film, pieces of dialogue like these are set up like punchlines of jokes, but they land as being uncomfortable and unfunny.
What makes the plot’s failure particularly shocking is that it managed to fail, even with a star-studded cast. Eddie Murphy, Jonah Hill, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David Duchovny, Molly Gordon, Rhea Perlman, Anthony Anderson, and Elliot Gould all have starred in incredibly successful comedic films before, which highlights how terrible the plot really is,even the best actors in the industry couldn’t save it. One performance that was not quite as bad was by Molly Gordon who played Ezra’s sister. She has a minimal role in pointing out everyone else’s awkwardness which lands well considering how uncomfortable the rest of the movie is.
Anyone interested in absorbing the Valentine’s Day energy by watching a new romantic comedy should steer clear of You People’s awkwardness and stick around for movies that look more promising like Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher’s Your Place or Mine that is set to release on Feb. 10.
All this goes to show that even with a stacked cast and Netflix money to boot, bad writing and confused tropism can make even the most promising plot a total miss.