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Cazzie David’s Feature Debut Is a Grotesque Anti-Rom Com

Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Falco Ink
Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Falco Ink

Dating is hell. Consider this: You’ve finally made it out of the “talking stage”—when you text non-stop but never actually see each other—and you’re ready to go on an actual in-person date. You throw together a fashionable fit, but you sweat through the shirt and have to redo it. You can’t stop nervous pooping. Does your breath smell? Does your hair look bad? At a certain point, everything is settled, so you make one giant leap for singlekind and step out your front door. You head to the restaurant, or the movie theater, or wherever the first date is. You feel hot. (Literally, because again, you can’t stop sweating.)

And that person you’ve been texting non-stop all week? They're a manipulative jerk. You did all this for nothing.

This nightmare becomes a reality in I Love You Forever, which premiered at the SXSW Film Festival on Saturday. Directed by Elisa Kalani and Cazzie David—daughter of Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David—the dark comedy peers into the life of Mackenzie (Sofia Black-D’Elia), who finally finds Mr. Right, but soon realizes he’s Mr. Absolutely-the-Fuck-Not.

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Mackenzie, a twentysomething law student, begins the film with a pretty lame dating résumé: She’s had a friends-with-benefits situation set up for the past two years, but this guy can’t even be bothered to grab her a glass of water when she’s thirsty. He sends her a meme a week. Her friends and roommates Ally (Cazzie David) and Lucas (Jon Rudnitsky) insist that Mackenzie could do better, so she attempts to pick up a guy at Ally’s birthday party.

That night, when Mackenzie finds Finn (Ray Nicholson, son of Jack Nicholson), a handsome journalist with a witty sense of humor, it’s like she can finally let out that breath she’s been holding in for so long. The clouds have parted, and her angel has been sent from heaven above. Finn is perfect. He wants her so bad that he books a private restaurant for them to go on a first date later in the week. Finn texts back. He shows interest in Mackenzie’s life. Their chemistry is so instant, so believable—and fun to watch, like a rom-com—that it almost feels suspect.

The red flags arrive early, and they’re not subtle. Finn flies Mackenzie around the world to meet him at reporting destinations—since when have journalists had this type of budget?—and showers her with gifts, praise, and other delights that could easily be classified as “love bombing.” In the first few months, Finn and Mackenzie’s relationship is swoon-worthy, but just a little too over-the-top; it becomes cringy and saccharine to see him brush her teeth for her, to text her constantly, to buy her plane tickets around the world.

I Love You Forever drops hints like bombs: Obviously, this behavior isn’t healthy. Clearly, Finn has some issues and is afraid Mackenzie will abandon him. It takes him spiraling out of control for Mackenzie to finally see how bad of a boyfriend he is—and he’s bad. There’s no need to outline every single one of Finn’s issues—because there are a plethora—but to sum it up, in their first big fight, Finn tells Mackenzie she often makes him want to kill himself when she doesn’t immediately text back.

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Their dynamic only gets worse from there. While I Love You Forever may be a little clumsy at establishing this relationship—from the start, the power dynamic is askew—it never blames Mackenzie for failing to see the warning signs. As an audience, we may grow frustrated with Mackenzie after she continues to excuse Finn for manipulating her. Just dump him already, amirite?! But that’s exactly the point: Even though Mackenzie’s friends are telling her to get out, she’s failing class, and Finn is edging on domestic violence, she still loves him. It’s not that easy to escape an abusive relationship.

Black-D’Elia portrays this dilemma with grace, making the audience laugh—after all, they are super cringy in public—and giving them moments to breathe. Kalani and David’s script maintains a balance between dark reality and comedic levity; in fact, David’s character Ally provides a great sense of warmth and dry humor whenever she’s around Mackenzie. Somewhat surprisingly, David’s supporting character is the best in the film. She possesses both directing and leading lady chops.

At times, though, I Love You Forever feels a bit too sadistic. Almost the entire movie follows Mackenzie and Finn, and although there are a handful of moments spent in happier settings, watching them starts to feel a bit voyeuristic. It’s not entertaining to see a man quietly abuse a woman over and over and over again. The movie is a realistic portrait of bad relationships, sure—but is its point only to unsettle its audience?

If that is the goal, as sad as it may be, then it is successful; this is a feel-bad movie. Even with two nepo babies of wildly successful writers/actors involved, however, I Love You Forever isn’t gripping or poignant enough to stick the landing. You can only watch a grotesque man commit atrocities for a short period of time before the shtick becomes too upsetting to continue.

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