domingo, marzo 3, 2024

‘You People’ Traffics In Progressive Guilt, Lack of Laughter

The film doesn’t flirt with woke asides or stop for Important Lessons on Race or the Patriarchy. Woke is built into the film’s DNA, intertwined with every scene.

That’s two strikes against most projects, but “You People” offers a brilliant cast to pull off its talking points. It’s not enough, sadly, even with Eddie Murphy showing he hasn’t lost an ounce of his comic brio.

Jonah Hill stars as Ezra, a 30-something Jewish man whose dating life has hit a rough spot. No one seems to “get” him, and even the women who seem like prime dating material can’t make his heart flutter.

Then he meets (cute) Amira (Lauren London), a fiercely independent woman who happens to be black. Love blooms in a hurry, and six months later the couple is talking marriage. That’s the worst news possible for Amira’s parents (Murphy, Nia Long), strict Muslims who see Ezra as a horrible match for their daughter.

Ezra’s parents (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David Duchovny) bleed progressive blue, and they’re delighted to invite a woman of color into their family.

“We’re gonna have brown grandchildren,” Louis-Dreyfus’s character squeals.

Cultures clash and Ezra’s parents behave like the most ignorant liberals on Planet Earth. A prime example? Duchovny’s character can’t stop genuflecting at the altar of the rapper Xzibit. Because he’s black, you see, and so is Amira. Get it? Does anyone actually think like this?

That’s just one of many problems plaguing “You People.”

Louis-Dreyfus’ Shelley never feels like a real person. She’s a comically warped wokester who apparently hasn’t met a black person in her life. She fawns over Amira’s hair and nails, turning tone deaf compliments into offensive riffs.

Is it funny? Not particularly, but co-writers Kenya Barris (who directs) and Hill must have thought it’s fall-down hysterical. Why else would they repeat the comic beat over, and over again?

The other note beaten to death? Ezra is so eager to please his future father in law, Akbar, that he lies through his teeth when he’s with him.

Every. Single. Time.

Big. Embarrassing. Easily provable lies.

Combine these two unfunny plot lines and you’ve essentially sunk the film.

Somehow, Ezra and Amira exude, if not chemistry, the sense that they’re lovers staring down a brutal reality. And, in the eyes of Barris and Hill, interracial marriage seems like “Mission: Impossible” in 2023. Yet every other commercial shows an interracial couple, so we know that’s not accurate.

Every character here, like the movie itself, is progressive to the core. It’s hard to watch people mired in microaggression misery when you’re trying to enjoy a rom-com.

Ezra’s every fiber apologizes for his so-called white privilege. Amira sees racism everywhere, like when she blames it for missing a plum work assignment. People of every race, creed and color miss out on plum assignments all the time.

In one of many cringe-worthy scenes, the couple’s respective families fight over who had it worse – Jews via the Holocaust or black Americans due to slavery.

Those awful chapters in world history are joined by dramatically smaller narratives, part of the progressive mindset that Barris and Hill drill into their story. That includes an early shout out to President Barack Obama and Ezra’s podcaster partner (Sam Jay) explaining that black people can never forgive whites for slavery.

A generous way to process that thought? It’s an homage to “When Harry Met Sally,” and how Harry insists men and women can never be friends if there’s a romantic spark between them.

Sadly, most of the black characters initially dismiss Ezra and his family because of their skin color, bigotry the film frames as casual, almost expected.

The bigger issues plaguing “You People” are easy to spot. It’s hard to develop flesh and blood characters when everyone is a talking point, a progressive op-ed or signifier of a larger cultural complaint.

Other key details are simply missing.

We’re told Ezra is willing to throw away his staid career as a broker to become a professional podcaster, but there’s little proof his talent is worth the risk. We never get to see why Ezra and Amira click, and the film introduces Akbar’s strong Islamic faith (he loves the Rev. Louis Farrakhan!) but that bullet point fades over time.

The biggest sin? The film’s third act requires audiences to forget everything they were told for 90 minutes in order to swallow it.

Barris’ film does offer a briskly paced narrative, and it’s impossible to look away at select points in the story. “You People” is a narrative train wreck, and we’re inclined to stare at disasters.

HiT or Miss: “You People” begins with a strong premise along with some solid laughs. In short order the laughs dry up and the concept hits a thematic iceberg.

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