Kenya Barris made a name for himself by creating black-ish, a surprisingly nuanced look at what it’s like to be Black in America, explored through the prism of a broadcast network sitcom. For eight seasons, Barris’s show was able to tackle difficult topics like police brutality, the 2016 presidential election, and racism within the span of a little over twenty minutes delicately and with insight.

While Barris has co-written several films in recent years, You People marks the directorial debut of the black-ish creator, and the project certainly sounds within his wheelhouse. A modern twist on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with a stacked ensemble that includes Jonah Hill, Lauren London, Eddie Murphy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nia Long, David Duchovny, and more should be a slam dunk for a first film. Yet You People lacks any of the insight or cleverness that made black-ish such a gem, instead feeling like a stitched-together collection of scenarios without much in the way of heart or humor.

Hill stars as Ezra Cohen, a podcast host about Black culture, who meets Amira (London) and the two quickly fall in love. After six months of dating, Ezra decides he’s going to pop the question, and asks Amira’s father Akbar Mohammed (Murphy) and mother Fatima (Long). This begins the awkward clashing of worlds between the Cohen and Mohammed family, as Akbar doesn’t think Ezra is good enough for his daughter, while Ezra’s parents Shelley (Louis-Dreyfus) and Arnold (Duchovny) don’t know how to act now that their family is about to become more diverse.

Image via Netflix

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We’ve seen this type of story before, not only through Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but also stories of nervous grooms-to-be asking to marry the daughters of men who have no interest in having this new addition to their families. Unfortunately, You People don’t bring much new to the table in this regard, with a script by Barris and Hill that goes through all the expected beats one would expect from this type of story. Even stranger is how stitched together this whole film feels, as if this is more a series of comedic vignettes slapped together centered around the same central idea that this white family and this black family are just too different for this marriage to work.

Each of these sections either feels improvised and far longer than it should be, or cuts before the scene can really get going. At times, it really feels like You People is just Barris throwing out all the scenarios one should expect in this type of film, never quite worrying about how long or how short of a time he spends in these moments, but instead, just focusing on spending any time in them. Sometimes, these segments go on and on because Murphy, Hill, or Louis-Dreyfus seem to be on a roll, although the jokes are still more miss than hit. Other times, he gets out of a scene, without ever giving us any real narrative reason why these scenes exists in the first place.

This also extends to the cast, especially the supporting characters. For example, Rhea Perlman, Rob Huebel, Nelson Franklin, and even Elliott Gould make appearances without any real purpose—to the point that it feels like a ton must’ve been cut out of the film, and these random cameos are all that remains of these moments. This feels especially egregious in one scene where Akbar takes Ezra to a barbershop, where Anthony Anderson is one of the barbers. Beyond a sentence or two, Anderson serves no purpose, as he’s treated like little more than a background actor in another one of Akbar’s attempts to humiliate his future son-in-law.

Jonah Hill in You People
Image via Netflix

But at the very least, You People works in stops and starts. The combination of Jonah Hill’s exasperated frustration with Eddie Murphy’s intimidating silence often makes for some of the film’s best moments. When Ezra first meets his girlfriend’s parents, we watch as Hill fumbles his way in and out of embarrassing statements and poor choices of words, all while Murphy and Long sit and stare mostly in silence. The mixture of Hill floundering with Murphy and Long’s baffled quiet is the type of humor that You People should’ve leaned into more.

And while many of the cameos can feel like little more than padding the film’s IMDB page, there are some great appearances. Deon Cole’s appearance as a wedding planner who wants to make the ceremony a full-on Tron homage shows that Barris is great with the actors he’s worked with many times before, while Mike Epps gets a few scene-stealing moments as Amira’s uncle. Also great is Sam Jay as Ezra’s podcasting partner and best friend, who is always able to call Ezra out on his shit.

But much like Barris’ writing work, which often reimagines existing ideas, like Coming 2 America, 2019’s Shaft, and last year’s Cheaper by the Dozen, it’s easy to see how this could’ve been a fascinating retelling of a story we already know, yet it never reaches its potential. As it stands, You People is like an amalgamation of sketches with unusual timing, thrown together in an attempt to have some semblance of a coherent narrative. If anyone could’ve updated this story for 2023, it’s Barris—as he’s shown with black-ish. But instead, You People is a missed opportunity, a half-assed reinterpretation that is only sporadically funny, and without the heart or the substance that this story would need for it to truly work.

Rating: C

You People is now streaming on Netflix.

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