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 loved 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 baked into that experience. The insistence that every beat of the story is SAD and IMPORTANT makes it all the more frustrating. Imagine if it were blaring from a movie theater screen and not your laptop.
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 died.
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 and 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) are joined 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 acquired 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 compared to a laundry machine timer; anglerfish are posited 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-recorded that practically half of the movie 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 forced 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 used almost as a prop, it feels justified. Abbie and Sam are a collection of actions and stereotypes rather than fleshed-out characters. Why waste your tears or your time?