REVIEW: Irreplaceable You (2018)

Theatrical Release Poster – Netflix

The following is a review of Irreplaceable You — Directed by Stephanie Laing.

Cancer movies are a dime a dozen, which isn’t to say that I dislike these films. I’m a sucker for films like A Walk to Remember and 50/50, the latter of which I believe is actually a masterpiece — but I digress. What I am saying is that there are a lot of these films, so when you encounter a new one, it has to really stand out to be worthwhile. Netflix just released the feature film directorial debut for Stephanie Laing, who has previously worked on shows like Veep and Vice Principals. Laing’s first film, unfortunately, does not manage to stand out at all. 

Stephanie Laing’s Irreplaceable You opens with the character Abigail Gordon (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) announcing her death via voice-over. Gordon narrates the picture, which, early on, introduces us to this picture-perfect love story. Basically, when Abigail and her fiancée Sam (played by Michiel Huisman) were kids, she bit into his shoulder as a form of affection — to show him how much she loved him — while they were on a field trip.

Now, in the present day, they believe that she is actually pregnant. However, they are shocked to find out that what she presumed to be a pregnancy was actually a sign of her having a tumor in her pelvis. They come to learn that Abigail suffers from stage four cancer. With the end in sight, she signs up for chemotherapy and a support group. But when someone insinuates that some day her fiancée will move on, she takes it upon herself to find someone for Sam, so that he won’t be lonely once she is no longer there.

Just because a film makes you cry, it doesn’t mean that it is all that good. As I was watching Irreplaceable You, I was completely unmoved until in an act of shameless emotional manipulation — the film lets the main character guide the remaining characters from beyond the grave. It is a punch to the gut that — I guess — kind of worked, in that it made me cry, but it also just comes across as a really cheap moment. I sat there with tears on my face, and I was angry at the film for getting emotion out of me with cheap tricks after the 90 minutes before that moment had done little to actually make me care.

So, yeah, I found this film to be really frustrating. You see, it isn’t that this film is absolutely awful. There are some really fine things about this film. There is a really strong cast of actors here, Gugu Mbatha-Raw is actually pretty good in the film in spite of everything, Christopher Walken and Kate McKinnon show up and are probably the most memorable characters in a film that you’ll likely end up forgetting about once you get to the next item on your Netflix watchlist.

Before the film takes a cutesy sprint towards the end of the film that includes that cruel tear jerker ending, which is also fairly predictable and clichéd, you get a tonally inconsistent, unexceptional, and fairly flat cancer dramedy. I think my biggest problem with the film — besides the cheap manipulative trick at the end of the film — is the tonal clashes this film runs into, which are best personified by Kate McKinnon’s character and her performance. Sometimes its there, but other times its just the wacky McKinnon that we’ve come to know.

Sometimes cancer dramedies with a lot of humor can work — 50/50 is a great example of such a film. But this film doesn’t handle the tonal shifts as well. There is an inappropriate and distracting joke about tangerines, grape fruits, and her tumor in the first act. The film goes directly — and, to me, inelegantly — from a decent joke about her cancelling her gym membership to a potentially devastating scene where she has to cancel things that actually mean something to her.

Ultimately, there are worse Netflix Original Films than Stephanie Laing’s Irreplaceable You, which, in spite of its many problems, does include a cast that keeps the film from being completely lifeless. But there are so many better films about cancer and support groups and therapy out there, and therefore Irreplaceable You is not really worth your time.

4.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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