Rated R. On Netflix.
Many of America’s most important conversations about race have been started by people in show business. In the 1950s and ’60s that person was almost always Sidney Poitier. Just his presence on the screen got people talking, and thinking. Later, the conversation was kept going by people like the great Redd Foxx of the groundbreaking TV sitcom “Sanford and Son.” Not very far off from “Sanford and Son” is the long-running ABC TV series “black-ish.” Created and written by Kenya Barris, “black-ish” aired from 2014 to 2022. Barris is the director and co-writer of “You People,” a very funny and deeply serious film about race that Barris co-wrote with the film’s male lead Jonah Hill.
Hill plays Ezra Cohen, the black sheep of a prosperous Brentwood Jewish family. Ezra works as a broker, but prefers working on his podcast with his partner Mo (writer-actor Sam Jay of “SNL”). Ezra and Mo spend a lot of time talking about race. In a sample we see, Mo talks about things “going too far” in terms of race, such as forcing NASCAR to remove the Confederate flags. Funny? When Ezra forgets to wear his yarmulke to the synagogue on Yom Kippur, where we spy such notables as Elliott Gould, Richard Benjamin and Rhea Perlman, Ezra’s mother Shelley (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) scolds him. After Ezra and Amira (Lauren London), a beautiful young Black woman, meet cute when he mistakes her for his Uber driver, they fall in love, and he takes her to “meet the parents.” When Ezra’s podiatrist father (David Duchovny) isn’t waxing poetic about Xzibit or playing the piano and singing (badly), Shelley is uncontrollably saying things that are wildly inappropriate and painfully funny.
Amira is from “Baldwin Hills via Inglewood.” Ezra buys her an engagement ring that is so small Mo tells him to pretend it is his grandmother’s “Holocaust ring,” Ezra’s big hurdle is Akbar Mohammad (Eddie Murphy), Amira’s stern and judgmental father, whose opinion of white people is not good and who does not want his daughter to marry a white man. In his attempts to win Akbar over, Ezra quotes “Forrest Gump” and takes Akbar and his wife Fatima (Nia Long) to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. For reasons unknown, Ezra name checks Malcolm X. The young suitor is a comic disaster.
The lighting is more suitable for a TV sitcom than a film. But Barris and Hill make a formidable writing team, and Barris’ direction of the actors is sharp. In the supporting cast, we see cameos by Barris regulars Deon Cole and Anthony Anderson. Hill and London have chemistry. If putting your foot in your mouth were a yoga move, Louis-Dreyfus’s Shelley would be a yogini. One of the greatest comic actors of our time, Murphy is not being funny here. His Akbar is deadly serious, even when Shelley inadvertently sets the headgear given to him by Louis Farrakhan on fire. Akbar tries to humiliate Ezra by taking him to a basketball court in the hood and having him play with the locals. When Akbar sees at Ezra’s bachelor party in Vegas that Ezra hangs out with a bunch of cocaine-sniffing, stripper-crazed clowns, he is even more certain Ezra is not for his daughter.
He may be right, and that’s the underlying point of the film. As Mo puts it, Black and white folks are never going to see eye to eye, ever. How do we fix that? Do we even fix that? Think about it.
(“You People” contains profanity, sexually suggestive content and drug use)