Progressive People hobbled by structure
Kenya Barris' You People is an odd combination of traditional storytelling and progressive politics, a film that has a great deal to say but can't find a new way to say it. Adhering to the plot structure used by Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? and Meet the Fockers, the movie's humor stems from fish-out-of-water situations that yield many humorous dividends in the hands of the movie's veteran cast. Had Barris and co-writer Jonah Hill stuck to this approach throughout, their message concerning modern race relations might have gone down a bit easier.
Ezra (Hill) and Amira (Lauren London), are a biracial couple whose relationship has gotten to the point where they have to meet each other's parents. His folks, Shelley and Arnold (Julia Louis-Dreyfus and David Duchovny), are acutely aware of the issues of race that are at play and overcompensate, going out of their way to mention Black causes they have championed. On the flip side, Amir's parents, Akbar and Fatima (Eddie Murphy and Nia Long), wear their anger like a badge of honor, hypersensitive to any act they view as aggressive or racist, calling out the perceived offender at the drop of a hat.
The journey Ezra and Amira take is genuine, Hill and London's chemistry going a long way towards convincing us each would be willing to endure the trials they face. Equally effective is the first-dinner sequence in which Shelley and Arnold make the mistake of comparing the Holocaust to slavery, drawing the ire of Akbar and Fatima, as good intentions are misconstrued and anger clouds sound judgement.
Unfortunately, the honesty in these sequences is undercut by Barris and Hill falling back on a Hollywood ending that was old hat 50 years ago. To be sure, things are dire in the area of race relations at the moment, and People isn’t naïve enough to suggest the issue can be solved any time soon. Yet they subscribe to a sense of optimism, their film providing a picture of two disparate cultures finding common ground, and that's something. Streaming on Netflix.
Cast can't save Do
If you were to close your eyes during Marc Jacobs' Maybe I Do, you'd swear you were attending a high school play. There's an amateurish quality that's evident from the start. None of the dialogue sounds natural, as each line spoken lacks the spontaneity of thought. Every speech sounds as if it were painstakingly memorized with each inflection planned and every pause anticipated. At times, I felt as if I should be preparing a convincing "Good job!" to deliver to the actors were I to run into them afterwards, commending them on remembering their lines, having no expectations of seeing anything resembling a well-rounded performance.
What's so absolutely shocking about Do is that its cast consists of not overearnest amateurs, but veteran actors who, I thought, could give good performances in their sleep. Alas, this proves to be not the case as Richard Gere and Diane Keaton star as Howard and Grace respectively, a couple who have grown apart. Monica (Susan Sarandon) and Sam (William H. Macy) are also longtime marrieds in a similar situation. Howard is having an affair with Monica, Sam and Grace have just met and are thinking of taking things to the next level, oh and Allen and Michelle (Luke Bracey and Emma Roberts), a young couple on the verge of marriage, happen to be the children of both couples. They all converge at a dinner where everything goes awry.
Do proves that the combined talent of a powerhouse cast cannot overcome a faulty script or tepid direction. It's certainly not for lack of trying – were Gere, Keaton, Macy and Sarandon tapdancing with the same fervor they employ to try to bring this script to life, their feet would be on fire. In the end, the film is not so much an entertainment as a curiosity, a production that seems to have all the right elements, yet fails spectacularly. Think of it as the cinematic equivalent of a car accident, though you'd be better off not slowing down to gawk. Available through Video-On-Demand.