I Love You Forever (2024)


I Love You Forever Review

For a law student brought up on a diet of cheesy rom-coms, the man of her dreams quickly becomes her worst nightmare in Cazzie David and Elisa Kalani’s zeitgeisty take on a familiar genre.

“I Love You Forever” has all the trappings of a romantic comedy, both good and bad. In this whip-smart millennial-skewing movie where you’re old if you’ve been caught with a third-generation iPhone, there’s something endearingly dated about the scene that filmmakers Cazzie David and Elisa Kalani place around Mackenzie (Sofia Black D’Elia), a law student who has two bickering best friends (Jon Rudnitsky and Cazzie David) to perpetually entertain her and a personal life scored by Jessica Simpson and Michelle Branch needle drops. Such retro touches notwithstanding, their subversive twist on the formula doesn’t feel like it could’ve been made any earlier than 2024, in an era when people are talking about emotional manipulation in relationships being just as harmful as physical abuse, which is exactly what happens to Mackenzie when she falls for Finn.

In previous generations, the wrong guy was more likely to look like Mark Wahlberg in “Fear,” ready to terrorize an entire family if he didn’t get what he wanted from his partner. These days, it’s easier to accept that he probably looks more like Finn (Ray Nicholson), the charismatic TV news reporter Mackenzie meets at a friend’s birthday party. At first, his only crimes against humanity seem to be bold romantic gestures such as booking an entire restaurant for their first date after she says she doesn’t think it’d be wise to eat in public but they soon give way to microaggressions and demands for attention whenever Mackenzie dares direct hers anywhere else.

When “I Love You Forever” sticks to the basic beats of a rom-com, the effect is smartly disorienting. The codirectors want us to swoon until things sour, at which point it becomes difficult for Mackenzie to imagine an alternative to the cultural narratives she’s been fed since birth. She’s not going to tell her friends about her new beau’s controlling tendencies when questioning them feels like a moot point.

If, like Finn, the rat-a-tat repartee and sharp observational humor seem too good to be true, “I Love You Forever” comes with pedigree. “Juno” and “Lisa Frankenstein” duo Diablo Cody and Mason Novick are among its producers; besides that, Cazzie David is the daughter of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” creator Larry David, a parallel that the writer-director duo may toy with before snuffing out with trendy asides about Instagram etiquette and dating algorithms.

That kind of quick wit comes in handy when your film is noticeably low-budget, as this one is. The filmmakers’ subtler corners-cutting leads to more overwrought dramatic moments than they’d probably care to admit, sometimes their shot selection feels like a casualty of a punishing schedule, and sparely dressed sets become a liability when there doesn’t actually appear to be much life left for Mackenzie once Finn has made her whole world about him. (Between Michael Penn’s sprightly synth score and a soundtrack that includes Miley Cyrus’ 2015 hit “Flowers,” music was clearly one area where no expense was spared.) Still, it feels almost fitting that Black D’Elia should rise above those limitations in exactly the same way her character does while grappling with Finn’s mostly imperceptible inhibitions.

In everything she does, from her degree in law to the fact that she’s been casually sleeping with one of her classmates for almost two years, Mackenzie is noncommittal. Which means you can probably imagine how excited she gets when Finn shows up and says he’ll take care of her. But not only does Black D’Elia keep us rooting for this vaguely wishy-washy heroine, she’s just as good at sticking with Finn long after it’s clear she should leave as she is at falling for him in the first place. He’s not going to make it easy on her, and neither will David and Kalani though they do it for a more noble reason, which is that they want to show how tightly someone can hold onto another person. They’ve hung around long past any hope of change; having said that, I think we all know people like them too well already and besides which, what about those who cling even harder? Who stay in love even after they should have let go?

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