Jonah Hill Is Sometimes Funny, But Interracial Comedy ‘You People’ Fails
by Alan Zeitlin
In an early scene in the film “You People,” which dropped on Netflix last week, one might get nostalgic and feel Seinfeldian. That’s because Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who famously played Elaine on the hit series, chastises Ezra (Jonah Hill) as they sit during synagogue services, because he forgot his yarmulke in the car. It’s Yom Kippur, but Dreyfus pronounces the first word incorrectly as if it was spelled “Yam.” I don’t know if she was told to say it wrong on purpose, but I was very angry for about 11 seconds, until I got over it. It’s only the holiest day of the year. No biggie.
Ezra and his sister, Liza, have some great insults, with him telling her: “You look like the principal of a Hebrew School version of Hogwarts.” Hill goes for the jugular when, after his grandmother (Rhea Perlman) tells him that due to his tattoo, he won’t be able to be buried in a Jewish cemetery (not true in real life), he says he will be dead and “you can take my ashes and you can flush ‘em down the urinal at Dodger Stadium, respectfully.”
In his documentary, “Stutz,” Hill is introspective and that’s one of the reasons I’m a big fan of his work, but this is a film that is both wildly inauthentic and irresponsible.
When it comes to the film’s portrayal of Judaism, there could have been more balance to actually hear some meaningful words from a rabbi or show some people who enjoy the spiritual aspects of services, and don’t view the period after the “vidui” or “confessional,” as a time to insult your family. But it’s a comedy of course, so we’re not expecting flowers.
After going on an unsuccessful date with a Jewish woman, Ezra goes on a date with a Black Muslim woman named Amira (Lauren London), and despite him wearing one of the most absurd sweatsuits in film history, she has some interest in him.
The actors have good chemistry in dialogue, but when it comes to showing physical chemistry with their characters, we see only their feet.
“Judaism swagger is such a turn on,” Ezra says.
“I just want a pickle and lox,” Amira says.
Dialogue is expected to be a bit stereotypical, but here it’s too much.
The parents Shelley and Arnold (David Duchovny) overcompensate, trying to make it seem like they know about Black culture. When Ezra goes to meet Amira’s parents, Fatima (Nia Long) and Akbar (Eddie Murphy), they look like they wish Ezra would fall through a trap door.
I didn’t like the line where Murphy says, “so it’s not bad enough that y’all have to make me get a vaccine so I can go into the casino, now y’all comin’ after my kids?”
When the two sets of parents meet, Ezra’s parents say Rabbi Singer is available and Amira’s parents want an imam to be there. Akbar says he got his hat, known as a kufi, from Minister Louis Farrakhan. Not funny. And there is no serious acknowledgement of Farrakhan’s proven antisemitism and hatred of Jews.
The comedy comes to a standstill when Akbar asks if Jews are comparing slavery to the Holocaust. Akbar also says he doesn’t see people with yarmulkes getting shot by police.
The worst line of the film is Long saying, “ya kinda came here with the money you made from the slave trade.” While there were Jews involved in the slave trade, a fallacy has been promoted that a majority of Jews were, which is not the case and feeds into antisemitism. The movie never corrects this antisemitic libel.
The film comes at a time of strained relations between the Black and Jewish communities, where both feel the other side does not understand them and is often not even cognizant of their concerns. It would have been worthwhile to have a character that was a Jew of color.
“Black people and white people will never be cool,” says Ezra’s podcast co-host Mo, played by Sam Jay, who specializes in tough love.
I hope this is not what people really think, as the world would be a far better place if Black and Jewish communities could work successfully with each other.
While their families have a lot of problems dealing with the fact that their children are an interracial couple. Ezra and Amira seem to be okay with it when the parents aren’t involved.
The film is at times too predictable, especially with what happens to Akbar’s kufi. Molly Gordon, who was amazing in “Shiva Baby,” was underutilized, and when you have Murphy, one of the greatest comedic talents of all time, how do you not make use of his physical humor in something like a fight between him and Hill?
The film is worth watching and the performances are mainly good, but some lazy writing holds it back from being more memorable.
The author is a writer based in New York.