Today we have two comedies that come from different ends of the spectrum. You People plays like an interracial relationship sit-com, while Hit the Road is a serious theme working with laughs to get the message across.
You People (Netflix) - One of Sidney Poitier’s more forgettable movies would be Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, where the then taboo subject of interracial marriage was taken up in a mainstream film. That film, which also starred Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy as the parents of the girl, came out in 1967. So it’s more than half a century later and you can either call this the stagnancy or paucity of ideas coming out of Hollywood, or call this a genius update - your call! So what we get this time out is Jonah Hill as Ezra and Lauren London as Amira, who chance to meet when he mistakenly enters her parked car thinking she’s the Uber he booked. Of course they fall in love, and that’s so we can get on to the next chapter of Meet the Parents.
As Ezra, Hill is the more fleshed out character, while London’s Amira is given less to play with. I guess what they had in mind was to let the parents into the picture at one time, and let them go wild. Eddie Murphy plays the straitlaced Islam Nation father of the bride, while Julia Louis-Dreyfus and David Duchovny are the parents of Jonah’s character. Ezra is one of those white guys who wishes they were black, so when he meets Eddie Murphy, expect fireworks and bell-aching laughs. From the outset of the film, much is made of Ezra/E-Z’s character, his podcast with his home friend, and how he badly feels displaced as a LA Jew who comes from an upperclass family. It’s a strong portrayal, only matches by Murphy and Dreyfus, so the jokes fly fiercely, it’s just the subject matter that feels dated.
Hit the Road (video on Demand) - This film from Iran opens with a SUV parked alongside the highway, and we discover it’s a set of middle-aged parents with their two sons, and their ailing pet dog. You might think desert road movie, but as this is Iran, there is so much more at stake. Directed by Panah Panahi, this is his feature debut, and as the son of a film director who has been hounded by the current government, it is no surprise to find that the film deals with themes of the bonds of family, of the cost of freedom, and notions of great sacrifice in the name of forging a better life for your children. What’s cinematically astute is how Panahi offers a slow reveal of the circumstances that have brought this family in a rented car on the highway.
Sprinkled with rich humor, it’s great to note how Panahi is ready to offer his grim message and cautionary tale with so much humanistic qualities, and many lighter moments. Rayan Sarlak as the younger brother is the sparkling surprise. He’s a whirling dervish who constantly reminds us that in the midst of dire circumstances, of life-changing decisions, and of adventures fraught with danger, the rest of the world goes on, and life proceeds, often oblivious to what is of vital concern to particular individuals. It’s not a spoiler to mention that the real purpose of the road trip is kept from the young boy, and chiefly concerns his older brother. So while the film takes on the dimension of a domestic comedy, there’s also serious social commentary being made. A truly enjoyable film.