Review: Despite rushed ending, ‘You People’ is a biting social rom-com worth watching

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'You People'

In 1967, Sidney Poitier changed the world by meeting his white girlfriend’s parents (Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy) in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” (1967), a film that may feel regressive in hindsight but holds a revolutionary place in movie history.

Since then, there have been countless imitations of the in-law concept, from hilarious comedies like “Meet the Parents” (2000) to racially-charged commentaries like “Guess Who” (2005) where the white Ashton Kutcher met Zoe Saldaña’s Black father Bernie Mac.

On Friday, Netflix dropped the latest version, “You People,” set in modern times where Black parents wear Black Lives Matter T-shirts, Jewish parents desperately attempt to appear woke and cousins make offensive jokes on the fringes. It’s a biting romantic comedy with an awfully rushed ending, but enough laugh-out-loud moments to recommend.

Directed by Kenya Barris, who created the TV sitcom “black-ish” (2014-2022), the story follows banker-turned-podcaster Ezra Cohen (Jonah Hill) and fashion designer Amira (Lauren London), who meet during an Uber mix-up. Their whirlwind romance leads them to meet each other’s parents, igniting a quagmire of culture clashes and generational divides.

Any romantic comedy hinges on the believability of the young couple. Hill (“Superbad”) and London (“This Christmas”) may seem like an odd pairing at first, and while their initial attraction is mostly covered in a montage, their chemistry shines through in ensuing scenes. London’s eyes roll while Hill’s eyes bulge, wishing their parents would just shut up.

On one side, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is perfectly cringeworthy as Ezra’s overbearing mother Shelley, trying way too hard to prove her liberal credentials. Listen how the sitcom queen annunciates “A-mi-ra” and her comedic timing discussing police brutality (“Couldn’t get enough!”). David Duchovny is aloof as Ezra’s father Arnold, quietly professing his love for the rapper Xzibit.

On the other side, Eddie Murphy digs in as Amira’s rigid father Akbar Mohammed, wearing a Muslim kufi gifted to him by the controversial Louis Farrakhan. It’s fun seeing Murphy as the straight man, making subversive jabs rather than zany jokes, while Nia Long is passive aggressive as Amira’s mother, claiming to carry her family’s “slavery receipts” in her purse.

Cowritten by Barris and Hill, the first half of the script is a domino effect of momentum — boy meets girl, girl meets boy’s parents, boy meets girl’s parents, then both parents meeting. Their dinner table scene recalls “Meet the Parents” with abrasive comments, awkward religious prayers, and even a slapstick mishap ruining a prized possession.

Folks of a certain age obviously won’t get every pop-culture reference, particularly a scene where Ezra and best friend Mo (Sam Jay) relate their love lives to different Drake albums, but their podcast raises thought-provoking points about whether two races can ever truly get along, comparing America’s racial history to a marriage trying to reestablish trust.

While these conversations can feel like “Crash” (2005) with characters speaking exactly what’s on their mind and wearing their emotions on their sleeve, it’s so timely that it works all the way up to the believable “all is lost” moment. Sadly, after a well-earned fade out and fade back in, the final 20 minutes is the most rushed ending I can recall in recent memory.

The screenwriters find a specific way to have the young lovers face each other again, and while we won’t spoil what happens, it’s disappointing to see how the script suddenly abandons its careful construction of scenes to tack on a hurried Act Three. As the credits conveniently roll, you’ll say, “Wait, that’s it? They’re just gonna end it like that?!?”

Grabbing your remote, you’ll shake your head at the disappointing ending, but you’ll still be glad that you took the journey, especially because there are so few good rom-coms released nowadays.

Best case scenario: You might even think about the film’s salient points and take steps to be less cringe yourself. Overall, that’s a win in my book.

Now can you all stop bickering and pass Jonah Hill the mashed potatoes?!?

3.5 stars

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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