Irreplaceable You & the Underutilised Concept
By now you’ve probably seen, for want of a better term, one of the many ‘cancer movies’ out there. Off the top of my head a few immediately come to mind: The Fault in Our Stars, Now’s Good and Me, Earl & the Dying Girl. The latter of these I think does exceptionally well at balancing the emotion of the subject matter, humour and playfulness.
The most recent ‘cancer movie’ I’ve seen to date is Irreplaceable You. A Netflix Original comedy, drama, romance with a promising premise that failed to deliver on all fronts. In this post I want to explore why it doesn’t work and ways in which it could have been improved.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Michiel Huisman play childhood sweethearts, Abby and Sam, whose relationship is cut short when Abby is diagnosed with cancer. Abbie, having a Type A, controlling personality, tries to mastermind Sam’s love life by finding her ‘replacement’.
Although the film’s trailer left me feeling ambivalent, I did think the concept showed promise. This movie could easily have been a sweet oddball comedy-drama that did what Me, Earl & the Dying Girl did so well: it allowed the audience to see the people beyond their immediate suffering. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I think the reason for that is the underused concept.
Irreplaceable You: Take One
In order to understand how the concept could have been better executed, let’s first look at the main story beats.
- Abbie and Sam are engaged
- Abby believes she’s pregnant
- The pregnancy is actually a tumour
- She gets the idea to find Sam a new love interest
- She secretly tries to set Sam up*
- Sam finds out and confronts Abbie
- They fight and grow distant
- Eventually, they make up
- They get engaged again
- Abby dies
*Here lies the problem:
I think the greatest issue with the concept is Abby’s attempt to ‘parent trap’ Sam. There could have been a more intriguing appraoch to the story. What if Sam allowed Abbie to be his matchmaker? It’s the more unusual storyline. Tonally, it allows for more drama and conflict between our protagonists. The audience would go on a much more complicated journey with these characters and that, if done well, would be far more rewarding.
So much of the film is spent on Sam’s hapless love life that Abbie’s condition becomes a secondary storyline. Consequently, the audience slowly starts to forget about it. This would mimic Sam’s experience as he slowly finds someone new. By the time the audience remembers Abbie’s cancer, her condition is critical. This leaves the audience and Sam feeling guilty. I think this has a much greater emotional impact and it conveys the central theme of trying to move on, a lot better.
Irreplaceable You: Take Two
Considering the aforementioned, here is how I would rework the plot:
- Sam and Abbie are engaged
- Abbie has cancer
- Sam appears to be cheating
- Sam goes on a date with another woman
- Reveal plot twist: Abbie is helping Sam find a new love interest
- Sam finds someone he can see himself with
- Abbie and Sam fight
- They grow apart
- Abbie is dying
- They make up
- Sam tells his potential new love interest about Abbie
- Sam and his new love interest part ways
- Abbie dies
Irreplaceable You had dared to make the audience sympathise with Sam as he grew closer to Abby’s ‘replacement’?
the audience started to like Sam’s new love interest better?
the film starts from Abbie’s perspective and ends it with Sam’s?
A storyline like that would be uncomfortable and maybe controversial; in ‘cancer movies’ the audience is meant to identify with the sufferer. It’s an emotionally complicated idea but it makes for a more interesting film that poses challenging questions. If this idea worked, would this be a more compelling love story about loss and what comes after? I think so.
Not everyone will agree the concept needs reworking. There are other issues present in the film; for example, I don’t think there was enough Brian Tyree Henry. These are just my ideas and I’d love to hear what you think.
P.S. I have written a few scenes of the re-imagined story beats. In these scenes Sam appears to be cheating but its revealed Abbie is helping him find new love. You can read it here: Irreplaceable You Take Two