Director: Stephanie Laing
Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michiel Huisman, Christopher Walken
Watch Irreplaceable You online in the UK: Netflix UK
Every month, we highlight films directed by women on Netflix UK. We call it Women on Netflix.
Irreplaceable You begins with your typical rom-com meet-cute: 8-year-olds Abbie and Sam are on a trip to the aquarium, where they are told about a fish that mates for life by biting on to its chosen partner and never letting go. So, with little hesitation, Abbie turns and bites onto Sam’s arm, resulting in six stitches and a cute, romantic story to later tell at their engagement party. The reason for their engagement? Abbie (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who is excellent as always) is sure she is pregnant, sure she can actually feel a baby inside her. But a doctor’s appointment reveals that her pregnancy is actually a tumour, which leads to Abbie deciding to find someone for Sam (Michiel Huisman) to be with once she is gone.
Abbie also begins to attend a support group for people with cancer, led by Mitch (Steve Coogan). The group meets to crochet (which is absolutely, definitely not a metaphor) and talk all things cancer. Here, she meets Kate (Kate McKinnon), who refuses to give into cancer and be anything but positive, and Myron (Christopher Walken), who Abbie immediately forms a friendship with.
The scenes between Abbie and Myron are some of the strongest of the film; as they go bird-watching and shopping for Sam, their friendship seems so easy and natural, even with the inevitable expiration date looming over it. Walken manages to make you laugh and break your heart without you even realising he’s doing it. McKinnon, meanwhile, brings her usual odd intensity to her role, but manages to restrain the more comedic aspects to give an impressive, sympathetic turn that you can’t look away from.
With so many strong performances and the intriguing dynamics between the cast, you’re often left wishing that you could have more time with Abbie and the different characters. More time with her and the support group, her and her mum, her and Dominic the nurse, her and Myron. Even more so, time with her and Sam; we’re told about their epic love story much more than we are actually shown it, their late night conversations being a rare and much needed glimpse into their relationship. Although, in some ways, the limited time with the characters actually works, serving as a metaphor for Abbie’s quickly disappearing time and need to decide what exactly she wants to spend the rest of her remaining time doing, and who with.
The main issue of Irreplaceable You is that tonally, it seems like Stephanie Laing couldn’t quite decide what she was going for. Both the jokes and the heavy, emotional moments don’t always seem to quite get the chance to land, as the film quickly moves on from them – although, when they do land, they are excellent. It seems as if the film’s stuck between committing to being a dark comedy or a tragic rom-com, so instead falls somewhere in the middle. Despite this, it’s full of charm and excellent performances that will make you both laugh out loud and shed a few (many) tears, and manages to serve as a reminder to be mindful of the time we have, without that message being heavy-handed.
Irreplaceable You is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.