Jonah Hill and Eddie Murphy are among the stars in this prickly-charming generational Netflix comedy, the feature directing debut of Kenya Barris.
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By Lisa Kennedy
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When Ezra hops in the back seat of Amira’s Mini Cooper, sparks fly. Played with savvy charm by Lauren London, the budding costume designer furiously calls out Jonah Hill’s unhappy broker and fledgling podcaster for his assumption that she, a Black woman, is his rideshare pickup. But their exchange goes from prickly to something warmer and at times winning — which is an apt description of this interracial, interfaith, bigotry-teasing comedy, directed by Kenya Barris and written by Hill and Barris.
More than his Wu-Tang Clan tees and her Gucci slides, hip-hop culture is their lingua franca.
And these kids are all right-ish, to borrow a suffix Barris made popular with his TV shows “black-ish” and “grown-ish.” Much like the parents who met in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” more than 50 years ago, it’s the elders who prove to be the problem. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and David Duchovny play Shelley and Arnold Cohen of Brentwood; Eddie Murphy and Nia Long are Amira’s pessimistic-at-best parents, Akbar and Fatima Mohammed, of Baldwin Hills.
While Duchovny and Long aren’t silent partners here, it’s the former “S.N.L.” castmates Murphy and Louis-Dreyfus who whet the comedy as their characters are poised to scuttle Ezra and Amira’s plans to wed. Shelley by being so effusive in her clumsy embrace of Amira that she becomes exhaustingly offensive. The disapproving Akbar by trying to reveal Ezra as a white opportunist.
Hill’s Ezra is, in fact, a fool of sorts. Mo, his cocky partner in podcasting (played by the dynamic comic Sam Jay) tries to keep him real. But Ezra lies to please. He tries too hard. He refers to Malcolm X as “the G.O.AT.” during his first meeting with Amira’s parents at a Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles (his idea). He wants to be edgy and lovable. And Hill, wearing blond-streaked hair and a lit smile, carries that yearning throughout the film.
Hill and London build on a nice vibe. Their characters are playful and frisky, in sync with their eye rolling and mouthing of apologies from across a room. Like the betrothed, viewers recognize the shoals but remain optimistic they can navigate them. And then the movie begins nimbly nudging doubts. Maybe there is no happily ever after here.
Between the two of them, insiders Barris and Hill must have Rolodexes that cover the entire industry. There are cameos aplenty. Rhea Perlman offers a few quips as Ezra’s grandmother. Richard Benjamin, Hal Linden and Elliott Gould say wildly inappropriate things after a Yom Kippur service. Anthony Anderson cuts heads at a Crenshaw barbershop. And Mike Epps arrives as Akbar’s knowing brother, E.J.
Additionally, Los Angeles gets more than a passing glance. Mark Doering-Powell’s photography hovers from above and cruises at street level, capturing the city in its best light. This L.A. feels decidedly upscale. With its lavish homage to sneakerhead couture and its killer soundtrack (by Bekon), “You People” can be read as either a critique of the commercialization of hip-hop culture or a celebration of its ongoing durability. Or maybe it’s both, which would likely suit Amira and Ezra just fine.
Rated R for language, sexual friskiness and cannabis use. Running time: 1 hour 57 minutes. Watch on Netflix.
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