If you thought the Romeo and Juliet trope was done with, you might want to reconsider your list of contemporary plot arcs. While the fabled couple had their warring families rooting against them, the modern couple stands divided for a plethora of reasons, from culture and religion to opposing views and opinions. The 2023 rom-com “You People” dissects the love story of Ezra Cohen (Jonah Hill) and Amira Mohammed (Lauren London). Ezra is Jewish, whereas Amira is Muslim. Directed by Kenya Barris, the movie goes beyond the common black girl, white man trope and amalgamates more layers to the overarching religious clash between the two protagonists and their respective families.
The story of “You People” is pretty straightforward, with no edge-of-the-seat drama. However, it manages to reel you in with pop culture references and its hip-hop vibrance. This includes rhythmic soundtracks to bop your head to, along with loads of hip and trendy connotations. The movie begins with Ezra and his friend Mo’s shared podcast, where they seemingly talk about culture. It then moves on to Ezra’s experience in prayer, where he encounters people who are only interested in knowing about his love life and why he isn’t married yet at the age of 35. If this was not enough to make his miserable life harder, he has no fun at work either. Stuck in a boring finance job, Ezra dreams of taking his podcast ahead, as that is his true passion in life.
Like a breath of fresh air, we are introduced to the feisty female lead, Amira. In all her glory and charm, she is fending off an ex-lover who suffocates and irritates her. However, all that fiery anger dies down when she confronts her traditional, rigid father, Akbar Mohammed (Eddie Murphy). From very early on, we see her father’s meddlesome behavior in Amira’s love life. He encourages boys he approves of and dismisses the guys he hates, both without taking his daughter’s opinions into consideration. Thus, this steers the movie into something of an archaic setup where the father decides who is good enough for his baby girl. Moreover, the troublesome thing is that throughout the movie, we don’t see Amira taking a firm stand against it either. Rather, she ends up siding with her father so as not to set him off. And soon, the breath of fresh air goes stale because Amira’s strong personality does not culminate into something stronger.
Going a step further, “You People” comments on various things apart from just the interracial aspect of modern relationships. It brings the “Black Lives Matter” movement into focus. Things were rough for people of color since the very beginning, but with police brutality and harsher treatment by some racist people, things have become worse. The movie showcases how every African-American person is hesitant to get involved with white people. They take every action and every word with a pinch of salt. The Mohammed family tackles issues of color as well as religion. Even though the roots of Judaism and Islam are shared, the families have a very tough time adjusting to each other.
The title seems perfect, as that’s how many people would address a specific section of society when they couldn’t find a proper term. This also reflects the awkwardness of the characters in the movie, especially Ezra. Many people in relationships would understand and relate to the fear of meeting their partner’s parents for the first time. While many Hollywood movies have presented an interesting perspective on meeting parents on the big screen, this Netflix movie brings so much more to the table. The undertones of the racial divide, religious differences, and the recent events that led to a palpable rift between whites and blacks are all discussed in “You People.” Furthermore, the debate between the miseries of the Holocaust and slavery is not something you discuss at a usual dining table. The movie brings forth this discussion but leaves it midway. In reality, no pain is more severe than the other, as both incidents left substantial scars on their victims.
In this ever-evolving and expanding world, the basic definitions of gender, sex, and relationships have been rewritten over and over again. Therefore, the understanding of such terms and divisions keeps changing. Generation X tries very hard to keep up with the world and be trendy. However, in doing so, a lot of people go so above, and beyond that, they can’t draw a line between curiosity and offense. This is exactly what happens with Ezra’s mother, Shelley. She is the typical well-intentioned, loud-mouthed mother who feels like she knows everything. When she meets Amira for the first time, she talks to her as if she is a black woman, as if that is where her identity ends. What she does not realize is that Amira is so much more than that and that she is her own person. Shelley crosses line after line and offends Amira and her culture repeatedly, even though she means well and only wants to make Amira feel included. Nonetheless, hats off to Julia Louis-Dreyfus for playing the part so gracefully and hilariously. Just her presence lights up the scene and brings a certain charm that means we cannot continue hating on Shelley.
Additionally, we believe Liza’s story remains unexplored. Liza is Ezra’s sister, and Shelley reveals that she is queer at the beginning of the movie. Her character and her experiences could have given the story a fresher take as it rounded off all the modern topics to cover. Liza seemed to have been sidelined throughout the story. She is only seen as a fire extinguisher in cases where Shelley or Ezra’s father cross a line. Other than keeping her parents in check, she seems redundant in the story of the movie. There is an absence in the depth of characters and their subsequent experiences besides the protagonists. Such is the case with Mo, Ezra’s best friend and podcast co-host. They appear on screen only to help Ezra navigate his feelings, despite them being opinionated and strong-willed.
In retrospect, “You People” shows how we have only gone back in time with the racial divide and incidents of racism. The 21st century is advancing at an unbelievable rate, so how come humankind has remained so backward in aspects like love and culture? Moreover, the true test of a relationship of today comes from reaching common ground in views and shared beliefs. Ezra and Amira show what love in this century looks like, from the problems they face to the solutions they conjure up. In the end, the movie veers away from the strong issues and fulfills what is expected of a common romantic comedy. The parents come to a realization and get their kids back together. On the one hand, we wanted the movie to dive deeper into the hushed topics rather than give a very surface overview. On the other hand, it might just be more comfortable to stay true to the genre and give the audience what they expect.