There’s some films that do their best to make you bawl like a hormonal teenager that was stood up on prom night. These films push the metaphorical envelope to the nth degree, fishing for tears like there was a studio-mandated quota for the film. Irreplaceable You is one of those films, and it doesn’t care if it’s obvious. The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Stephanie Laing
Written By: Bess Wohl
Abbie (Mbatha-Raw) and Sam (Huisman) are a newly engaged couple that couldn’t be more in love. They’ve dated for most of their lives, and they can’t wait to continue that affection into the next stage of their relationship.
As they plan for their wedding, they both believe that Abbie is pregnant as she feels some sort of mass in her stomach area. Unfortunately, it turns out that the mass is actually a malignant tumor. Abbie has a form of Stage IV cancer — leaving her with only a few months to live. Distraught, Abbie does her best to leave Sam the best possible chance of a fulfilled life. In doing so, she becomes preoccupied with finding a woman for Sam to love after she’s gone — while getting advice from unlikely sources.
Creating a believable and emotional love story may be one of the most difficult tasks in Hollywood. It’s one thing to create a story that makes even a lick of sense, but creating a story that actually has some emotional satisfaction is a completely different animal. Actors must have strong chemistry, but they can’t be corny. The writing must be tight and loving, but not cheesy. The direction needs to have some sort of heightened realism, but it can’t seem fake. Music during emotional scenes should swell, but not to a fairytale-like feeling of unearned affection. Love stories are hard, and films that actually pull them off are remembered for a long, long time.
Weirdly enough, a lot of aspiring filmmakers get their first crack at directing with similar stories to Irreplaceable You. A difficult subject combined with an inexperienced director isn’t exactly ideal.
Naturally, Irreplaceable You is Stephanie Laing’s directorial debut.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw is Lovely Per Usual
Can we as a collective agree to do our best to get Gugu Mbatha-Raw in more films? I’m not exactly sure how we’ll go about accomplishing this feat, but she’s lovely, damn it!
While Irreplaceable You is primarily a discussion of the grieving process, it takes a humorous turn on a fairly consistent basis, and Mbatha-Raw is at the center of it all. “Endearingly stubborn” is a solid way of describing her. Better yet, she definitely wears the pants in the relationship.
A story about a terminal disease can get pretty depressing, but Mbatha-Raw adds a silly touch that is unbelievably cute. You want her to succeed and find peace with what little time she has left on Earth, making it surprisingly heartbreaking when she meets unexpected turbulence. She has a lot to handle as a terminally ill individual, navigating her overbearing mother and those that want her to find peace. She knows what she wants and no one — not even cancer — will get in her way.
There’s a strong argument to make that Mbatha-Raw is completely wrong in her pursuit to find a new lover for her fiance. But, her actions are strongly tied to her inner thoughts — you understand her more with each false step.
Irreplaceable You Focuses on the Wrong Elements
The problem with this quest to find another girl for Sam is that it becomes unwieldy and superfluous. Mbatha-Raw’s character chases this desire so blindly that most people involved become somewhat unlikable.
Irreplaceable You is one of those movies where issues could have been resolved if people clearly explained their reasoning and actions. The tension created becomes more manufactured by the second. As the viewer, I can only suspend disbelief to a certain point, and creating fights from common misunderstandings is the definition of infuriating.
There’s a good movie to wring out of Irreplaceable You‘s premise. Although the terminal illness subgenre of romance films is definitely saturated, the added wrinkle of matchmaker can work as a deep dive into how someone handles grief. The particulars are there for a quality film. There’s even plenty of memorable supporting performances (most notably from Christopher Walken and a delightful nurse) that keep Irreplaceable You from getting the “forgettable” label from yours truly.
But, as mentioned above, Irreplaceable You goes so far into the minutiae of it all that it leaves the core relationship behind. We never get a good understanding of why these two love each other — we’re merely suppose to accept it as fact. What’s their favorite thing about each other? What will Sam remember about Abbie? After watching Irreplaceable You, I can’t answer those questions. If you’re going to create a tragic love story, crucial questions like these need clear answers.
Irreplaceable You Becomes Absurdly Cheesy
With little time to truly focus on the relationship between Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Michiel Huisman, the film relies on platitudes that are eye-rolling to say the least. Mbatha-Raw and Huisman are solid actors so they can make each line somewhat believable, but every impassioned speech eventually boils down to a groan-inducing, fake experience. You’ve been warned: every instance of voice over in Irreplaceable You is straight out of a Lifetime movie.
Each groan piles on the one before it, emphasizing just how manipulative Irreplaceable You gets in the end. There’s a noticeable charm to this film that will keep some audiences entertained — but that charm isn’t real. It creates the facade of a true romance, and those that watch carefully will realize that it isn’t genuine. In that regard, Irreplaceable You becomes hollow, saccharine, and far-fetched.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw makes Irreplaceable You watchable all by herself, becoming a lovably stubborn woman in her final days. But, the movie as a whole loses itself in the oddest game of matchmaker put to screen in quite some time; characters even become unlikable.
There’s a great film somewhere in Irreplaceable You that shamelessly creates tears in a more earnest manner, but the right amount of focus just isn’t there. Opposite of the desired effect, the love story at the center of the story becomes more cheesy and unbelievable by the second. Those that love the genre might find some value here, but Irreplaceable You falls squarely into the ever-growing pile of films that push fake sentimentality.
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