“Dry-eyed weeper” is movie critic shorthand for a tear-jerking romance that jerks no tears. And alas, that’s what the latest made-for-Netflix production, “Irreplaceable You,” is.
It may have the expressive, doe-eyed delight Gugu Mbatha-Raw (See “Belle” is you haven’t.) as a dying woman who makes her last mission on life finding her fiance a suitable mate. And that set up — tried and true since LONG before IMDb lost track of the Julie Walters/Jim Broadbent weeper with the same plot — should make it a no-brainer.
Wringing tears may be the easiest emotion to manipulate an audience into. Think about how many times you’ve misted up at a faithful dog tale or video on youtube, or Edmund Keane’s famous “Dying is easy, COMEDY is hard” aphorism.
So why doesn’t this come off?
It’s mainly an issue of tone, of how sparing the viewer abrupt blasts of bad news tends to rob a story of surprise and emotion. Lay it at the feet of “Veep” veteran Stephanie Laing, who directed, and Bess Wohl’s limp script, in other words.
When you open your film with shots of a cemetery and our heroine narrating, “This is where my story ends,” you’re playing fair. When you hit her with a doctor reporting “difficult news” to what she and her fiance (Michiel Huisman of “Game of Thrones”) think is a pre-wedding pregnancy ten minutes in, you’re kind of breaking the rules.
It doesn’t matter that you’ve included “Matrix” debates between Abbie (Mbatha-Raw) and her chemo nurse (Timothy Simons), and couple of funny support group scenes featuring an all-star supporting cast. The die is cast. “Comic relief” is supposed to be just that, relief from the grim matter at hand.
When your heroine doesn’t even lose her voluminous head of hair, how are we supposed to feel her pain?
The highlights here are few, but pithy. Steve Coogan leads “the last group you ever wanted to be a member of,” and Kate McKinnon and Christopher Walken are among its “dying of cancer” members.
Walken gets to be the voice of wisdom here, indulging Abbie in her final quest — shopping, “because women are going to try and dress him (Sam)” after she’s gone, and they’re sure to screw it up, and interviewing Internet dating candidates because “women are going to eat him ALIVE.” Myron (Walken) is there to call her a “schmuck” or a “putz,” whichever works.
The one poignant-funny scene is Abbie, being put on hold as she tries to cancel wedding bookings and her gym membership — “I’m officially DYING, so I figure, ‘Why work out?'”
Yeah, she’s put on hold. We’ve all been there. The gym cancellation part, anyway.
There’s nothing here that’s offensive, nothing that really feels wrong — the support group scenes have an edge, although nobody there looks that sick despite the fact that they’re being told “CANCER is your job,” now. The leads manage perfect American accents and have a little chemistry.
But the picture just lies there, inert and lifeless, despite the attractive and interesting cast and what must-have-looked like a can’t-miss premise.
“Irreplaceable You,” unlike “P.S. I Love You,” unlike “The Wedding Gift,” does…miss.
MPAA Rating: unrated, adult situations, profanity
Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michiel Huisman, Kate McKinnon, Christopher Walken, Steve Coogan, Jackie Weaver
Credits:Directed by Stephanie Laing, script by Bess Wohl. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:35