I read a book called I Like My Life by Abby Fabiaschi a few weeks ago. It’s kind of like Alice Sebold’s Lovely Bones — about a girl who is raped and murdered and who tries to help those she left behind to find her murderer. In I Like My Life, the protagonist killed herself and is trying from the beyond to help her daughter and husband move on, which includes trying to find her husband a new wife. It was a terrifically written book, and I did a lot of wine-drinking and grief-eating the week that I read it. The point of the book, however, is that those who are left behind must find their own paths.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s second Netflix movie in three weeks (see also The Cloverfield Paradox) is not a great movie. Where I Like My Life was gracefully written, Irreplaceable You tries to impart a similar message with a sledgehammer. Also, instead of waiting until she’s dead, Mbatha-Raw’s Abbie endeavors to find her fiance a new girlfriend before she’s died of cancer.
Amy Krouse Rosenthal, writing for the NYTimes “Modern Love” column, took a similar tack in early 2017 (you can read the column here; it will probably break your heart, especially knowing that Rosenthal died 10 days after it was published). This Netflix movie, written by Bess Wohl (The Shaggy Dog, Must Love Dogs), is apparently not based on that piece, although the Rosenthal estate should probably get a cut from Netflix.
It’s a sweet, earnest, and well-intentioned idea, but please don’t. Never do this. Your husbands can figure themselves out on their own. Please don’t worry about their futures. Please don’t assume that they can’t find another mate a year later, five years later, or in my case, five decades later (or never). Let them find their own way, and please spend those remaining months you have together together.
That, in part, is what is so frustrating about Irreplaceble You. Within the first ten minutes of the movie, we find out that Abbie has terminal cancer. She’s not going to make it (we know this because, in the opening scene, she’s speaking from beyond the grave), so we begin the movie with a huge lump in our throats, all the lumpier because we love Mbatha-Raw in spite of the fact that she keeps showing up in mediocre movies like this one. She’s been in a relationship with Sam (Michiel Huisman) since they were kids, but instead of spending as much time as possible with Sam in her final days, she’s interviewing prospective new girlfriends and otherwise engaged in trying to control Sam’s life after she’s gone. This idea itself creates some obvious upset between Sam and Abbie, meaning that they spend way too much of their final weeks together fighting, and by the time they make up, well, there’s not much time left.
It’s not a good movie — it’s poorly written, trope-y, and predictable — although there are parts of the movie that are not as bad as the rest of the movie. For instance, Abbie is in a support group for people dying of cancer, a group that includes characters played by Steve Coogan, Kate McKinnon (in a small, throwaway role) and Christopher Walken, who easily steals all of his scenes. Jacki Weaver also has a small but sweet role, and Timothy Simons (Veep) provides some welcome comic relief as Abbi’s nurse.
Mostly, however, Irreplaceble You is specifically designed to make viewers weep, and to the degree that it is able to accomplish that, it is a rousing success. It’s a five-star ugly cry movie. You’re going to want to resist it. You’re going to tell yourself that you won’t let it get to you. You’re going to recognize just how manipulative it is, but it won’t matter. By the end of this movie, you’re going to be a mess. A drooling, sobbing, pathetic puddle of a mess. You will not enjoy much of the hour and a half that precedes the climactic scene, nor will you enjoy trying to compose yourself afterward, but if you are looking for an excuse to bawl your fucking eyes out, Irreplaceble You will definitely do the trick. But you won’t feel good about it.