'You People' by Kenya Barris Review: Hollywood elites are trying to relate to us again
Every so often we get a film from Hollywood that seems almost like pure satire, despite it actually very much being serious regarding its ideas. These films over time have grown fortunately few and far between as they inevitably flop, but in this modern Internet age there's a certain group of companies that haven't quite realised this yet; and yes I am talking of the streaming services. Netflix just released a new title named You People. If the name alone doesn't quite give you an idea of what to expect just yet, I'm surprised. You People, to put it simply, is a film from Hollywood elites that tries to pretend it has any idea as to what normal people are actually like. Resulting in a very weird, stereotypical set of characters that are just impossible to actually connect to.
Though beneath this total lack of awareness and the disconnect between Hollywood elites and the audience is actually a unique style of filmmaking that works quite well, the negative being the story and its characters are just a massive mess. I found it incredibly difficult to stick with You People, which is a shame due to this style that you just don't really see anywhere. But even then, I found that the film's greatest asset grows tiresome as it's overused and struggles to weave itself between the scenes that don't hold much weight or any interest for that matter. Which is strange for a film that brands itself as a romantic comedy despite not actually being funny at all; even more strange is that the film holds a highly impressive cast within the comedy world. Greats from prior years have presence, but not enough dialogue to really contribute.
I can't recall the last time I saw a film with Jonah Hill. An actor with some great talent but heavily underappreciated as he's grown older. He serves as the lead to the film: an awkward Jewish broker that actually dreams of the most millennial career imaginable: running a podcast on culture with his unlikely black, female friend. The film introduces itself with a strange scene that details this podcast taking place, but alongside some very nice visuals that certainly manage to pull you in. Fast-forward and we have our protagonist practicing his Jewish faith in Los Angeles with a bunch of wealthy looking individuals, though next comes the film's main premise: he's single and doesn't want to be.
Finding someone by pure chance of a totally different culture, the film attempts to explore in a comedic and light-hearted manner the struggles of two different cultures and societal experiences as they clash as a result of their differences. Our protagonist: a white, Jewish broker from Los Angeles that falls in love with a black, Muslim woman. Naturally the idea of cultures clashing is one that can be addressed lightly and with humour, showcasing the differences between upbringings and standards. But from the very start we are diving deep into some very odd stereotypes. It felt a little like an unintentionally racist version of Meet The Fockers without any humour. Handling the idea of cultures clashing can be easy, still relying on some light stereotypes and showing the ways other cultures may attempt to be polite and share views and ways of life with others, there's setups that can be done to display this, but the film never bothers to try it. Instead we have the clashing of cultures resulting in what seemed more like ignorance and dismissal, a refusal to share ideas and learn together.
The narrative is completely lost within the first 20 minutes because of this, and only becomes more lost as it continues. It screams that it was written by someone of an elite position that is just guessing a scenario of what they feel the average person and relationship might be like. Which is a result of Barris and Hill both being from different elitist backgrounds but thriving on the average person's struggles, where politics is forced in and the façade that these people are on the same level is presented. Sudden references to BLM during scene changes, references to Jewish stereotypes; it's like two people were trying to offend everyone. But by enforcing the most liberal and elitist views imaginable. Jews hang around their fancy synagogues and black muslims hate white people and anything that isn't Allah. The total disrespect as a result of pulling at strings just makes the film unbearable. Especially as the film is actually trying to be relatable to its audience, pushing ideas under the assumption that we actually understand the struggles and events to connect to them on an emotional level. Of course, we can't. Though I can see how for the Hollywood elitist armchair activist, this film might be incredibly appealing and relatable, from a totally unrealistic and warped perspective of the world. Is this what those rich millennials in LA struggle with on a day-to-day basis?
Though beneath an unintentionally racist narrative is a set of ideas that could have potential. Ones that could detail the struggles of cultures clashing, but in an actually comedic and heartfelt manner that defines growth and understanding as a result. For this to happen you need those highs and lows, moments of character development that show their intent to improve, where culture and religion serves as the backbone to their willingness to listen and share ideas with those who might not be the same. Stereotypes can work in favour of supporting this if done properly, but without structure you have stereotypes that just don't result in laughs, and instead just insult multiple communities.
And much of this is a disappointment because the visuals are very much there. This was a beautifully shot and uniquely edited film (admittedly with a horrible score that just made my eyes roll due to how little they contributed to the events). We would have brief montage clips and imagery on the screen that would connect one scene to another, and it was done in a really creative way that reminded me of Spike Lee's great cultural films that do properly handle systemic issues and culture clashing. Not to forget that the film looked like it had been shot on some very nice vintage lenses, which gave the film a very colourful but noisy look. Shallow depth of field and seemingly a lens coated in grease to display a blur on the surroundings. Though that is a result of the lenses and their focal lengths and apertures. So You People isn't an ugly film at all, it has its strengths and oozes with some style that you just don't see elsewhere, but thrown into a film with a script that is truly atrocious.
Funnily, it's easy to imagine the pitch to Netflix in the first place. Where the arguments of millennial interests and the elite US state standard of living was met with societal struggles (more so their annoying political talking points) but ultimately the conclusion details a total lack of awareness of what life is really like outside of their bubble. But this happens from time to time as the Hollywood elites attempt to figure us all out, guessing but just hilariously failing. Displaying their arrogance disguised as them actually caring.