‘You People’: A Shanda for the Goyim

In other words: I watched it so you don’t have to.

by Adina Bernstein
You People

These days, interracial and interreligious marriage is (mostly) accepted. That does not mean, however, that the families of the engaged couples are welcoming of their child’s future spouse.

The new Netflix romantic comedy, You People, is a cinematic love child of Meet the Parents and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Ezra (Jonah Hill) and Amira (Lauren London) are in love and engaged. Ezra comes from an Ashkenazi Jewish family and Amira comes from a Black Muslim family. A clash between these two families is expected. Ezra and Amira are hoping that love will keep them together. But given their differences (and the reactions of their parents), that love may not be enough.

Stereotypes Galore

As the star and co-screenwriter (the other being Kenya Barris), Hill had the opportunity to explore the racial, religious, and cultural issues that come up within the narrative. Instead, they rely on stereotypes and 2D character tropes. They range from the myth about Jews and money, Hollywood connections, Jewish women with a big nose who wants to marry for money, etc. From a personal perspective, all of the jokes are offensive. The worst, however, is the uplifting of Louis Farrakhan and the spreading of the debunked story that Jews were dominant during the Atlantic Slave Trade. I can laugh as much as the next person. But when it starts to border on prejudice, I have to draw the line.

When Ezra’s parents, Shelley and Arnold (Julia Louis-Dreyfus and David Duchovny) have the opportunity to refute these claims and have a meaningful conversation on race and religion, they remain silent. The rest of the scene devolves into slapstick that falls flat on its face, killing what could have been an opportunity to make a real connection between these characters.

Waste of Talent

This cast has some of the most talented actors currently working in Hollywood. Instead of using them, they are locked into stock characters. Rhea Pearlman plays Ezra’s grandmother. She is largely relegated to the background. Both Louis-Dreyfus and Eddie Murphy (who plays Akbar, Amira’s father) have a resume that is beyond enviable. Instead, of being let loose, they are tied to a boilerplate role.

Murphy’s character is simply the overprotective father who is displeased with his soon-to-be son-in-law. That works at the beginning of the tale, but if that continues to be his modus operandi without a recognizable character arc, the performance becomes dry and predictable. Robert De Niro played the same part in Meet the Parents. The difference between them is that Meet the Parents is funny, and underneath his gruff, Jack Byrnes has a heart. Sadly, not even Fatima (Nia Long) is allowed to be more than the foil for her husband the way Blythe Danner was in Meet the Parents.

Louis-Dreyfus’s Shelley is misused twice over. She is both the typical Jewish mother and the liberal Caucasian person who is well-meaning, but tone-deaf. Among the cringiest of lines (and there were many), there is one that sticks in my head. Towards the end of the film, Shelley apologizes to Amira, and not just for her behavior. She apologizes for all white people and for Jews. The fact that she apologized for her unconscious bias and for the racism Amira has experienced is one thing. It is another thing entirely to apologize for an entire community as though they are a monolith. For his part, Duchovny has nothing else to do than be the out-of-touch dad. I would have hoped he was given more to do.

Ezra and Amira Try to Save the Story

If there is one good quality, it is the romance between Ezra and Amira. Their meet-cute is unconventional. He thinks that she is his Uber driver. She stops in front of the building where he works due to the faulty directions on her phone. Their relationship is the straight man to their mutual parent’s comedic farce. As a couple, their connection is sweet and admirable. Despite their outer differences, I can understand why they are together. But it is not enough to save You People.

It Was Released on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Given the nature of the movie, I would have hoped that whoever decided on the release date would have looked at the calendar. Had it fulfilled the intentions of fostering communication and understanding between Ezra and Amira’s individual families, I wouldn’t be so upset. But given that it was released on Holocaust Remembrance Day and it relied on grossly negligent tropes, it is just another reason never to watch You People again.

In Judaism, we have a saying: a shanda for the goyim. It describes a Jewish person who confirms negative and formulaic images of the people of the book for the non-Jewish world. You People is an all-too-obvious example.

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1 comment

Nick Kush February 13, 2023 - 9:58 pm

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