Netflix’s New Romance “Irreplaceable You” Puts the ‘Jerk’ in Tearjerker

Irreplaceable You telegraphs exactly what you ought to be FEELING or THINKING about the characters in any given scene. It’s unnecessary, to say the least. The film, written by Bess Wohl and directed by Stephanie Laing (Veep), centers on the loss of a love one and the process of moving on.

As anyone who’s gone through a similar trial can attest, there’s a healthy amount of emotion bake into that experience. The insistence that every beat of the story is SAD and IMPORTANT makes it all the more frustrating. Imagine if it blaring from a movie theater screen and not your laptop.

Movies should be seen on the big screen. Comedies are buoy by the laughter that surrounds you, horror films benefit from share gasps in the darkness and well-shot action and sci-fi blooms into the larger scale. The one exception may be all-out weepies like “Irreplaceable You,” which are best seen in the privacy of one’s own home with an unlimit supply of tissues.

This Netflix original is the perfect film to debut on streaming, where’s there no self consciousness about how loud you’re sniffling or how swollen your face is. But for all the tears, “Irreplaceable You” isn’t a standard melodrama; it infuses real humor where your laughs are just as loud as your hiccuping sobs. It would serve its audience better if it paid more attention to a stronger structure and a believable plot, but its flaws don’t keep it from being affecting for those who like their love stories on the lachrymose side.

This is a romance with both figurative and literal bite.

Bess Wohl‘s script avoids being overly saccharine sweet by injecting jokes that begin in its first moments, which share that Abbie (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) dies. With that revelation, there’s little suspense about the destination of “Irreplaceable You,” but there’s surprising joy in the journey.

She and Sam (Michiel Huisman) have been together since they were kids on a field trip to the New York Aquarium. As adults, they’re celebrating their engagement and planning their wedding with a baby on the way when they learn that Abbie’s symptoms aren’t pregnancy. Instead, she’s terminally ill with little time left.

In addition to her time spent in treatment, Abbie’s last days are devote to trying to find Sam’s next wife. He’s a dorky professor who’s never date anyone but her, and she wants to guarantee his happiness after she’s gone. She also shares her experiences with a support group led by Mitch (Steve Coogan), where she bonds with fellow attendee Myron (Christopher Walken). As Abbie gets sicker, she worries about what will happen to Sam and tries to prepare for what we know she can’t escape.

The film starts with a conversation held entirely in voiceover.

A couple ruminates on what life would be like if they never got out of bed, tossing questions back and forth as to the practicalities of survival. Then one of the voices breaks off, saying that she didn’t ultimately have to worry about it — because she gone.

That voice belongs to Abbie (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), speaking to us from beyond the grave. As things kick into motion, she takes us back to her terminal cancer diagnosis. Her subsequent decision to do everything in her power to set her fiancé Sam (Michiel Huisman) up with the perfect woman to take care of him when she’s gone.

On paper, the impulse is understandable — a similar story went viral in The New York Times last year. But in execution, the plan is a horror show. Abbie basically auditions women to see if they’re “good enough” for Sam, deeming some too high-strung, others too weird.

The series of value judgments aren’t funny or sympathetic, but characteristic of the regressive, clunky humor that’s consistent through the entire movie. Gluten-free people are psychos! Women who love cats are weirdos! The list goes on.

That Irreplaceable You doesn’t completely fall apart is solely due to the unbelievably good cast: Mbatha-Raw and Huisman (who are, to be fair, perfectly charming). They are join by Christopher Walken, Steve Coogan, Timothy Simons, Brian Tyree Henry, and Kate McKinnon, all stuck in roles that completely waste their talents.

In that sense, Irreplaceable You feels like the rom-com analog to The Cloverfield Paradox, another movie acquire by Netflix starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and featuring an all-star cast that throws every first-draft idea on the wall to see what sticks.

The ticking clock of a terminal diagnosis is compare to a laundry machine timer. Anglerfish are posite as the patron saints of monogamy. The soundtrack is made up of nondescript pop music cues that wouldn’t be out of place in an elevator. And so much dialogue has been re-record that practically half of the movie. That is spent creeping over people’s shoulders to mask the fact that they’re not actually speaking.

Irreplaceable You is built to be a tearjerker, but it’s working from a blueprint that’s out of date. Its quirkiness is too force and its humor too trite for there to be anything to hold onto. Maybe that’s callous to say of a film that’s built around death, but when that death is use almost as a prop, it feels justify. Abbie and Sam are a collection of actions and stereotypes rather than flesh-out characters. Why waste your tears or your time?


Rating: NR
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Directed By: Stephanie Laing
Stars: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michiel Huisman, Steve Coogan
Written By: Bess Wohl
In Theaters: Feb 16, 2018 Limited
On Disc/Streaming: Feb 16, 2018
Runtime: 96 minutes
Studio: Netflix


Sheila O’Malley
The film itself seems to be in denial about its own story.

Gary Goldstein
The movie, directed by Stephanie Laing, tries too hard and too implausibly to fulfill what proves an uncomfortable, unworkable concept.

Frank Scheck
Wohl never manages to achieve the proper tonal blend. The result is neither sufficiently funny nor moving, lacking the truly daring humor that might have made the film a bracing dark comedy.

Emily Yoshida
A half-bake tragic love story so desperately engineer to tear-jerk that it ceases to resemble anything human.

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