Cazzie David Is Glad Her Feature Directing Debut Won’t ‘Resonate’ with Most People: That’s the Point

Cazzie David may have grown up in the spotlight, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to give audiences what they want.

The “Umbrella Academy” actress, author of essay collection “No One Asked For This,” and daughter of Larry David opted to make her feature debut with SXSW-selected anti-rom-com “I Love You Forever.” David co-wrote and co-directed the subversive dramedy with “Eighty-Sixed” web series collaborator Elisa Kalani. Oh, and did we mention David also has a supporting role in the film?

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“I Love You Forever” stars “Single Drunk Female” breakout Sofia Black-D’Elia as law student Mackenzie, whose lackluster love life is resurrected after a meet-cute with charming broadcast journalist Finn (Ray Nicholson). Yet Finn’s charisma and well-timed vulnerable admissions point to a more sinister game at play, and Mackenzie soon finds herself in a year-long toxic relationship solely framed by Finn’s narcissistic abuse.

It’s difficult to categorize “I Love You Forever” within a certain genre: Is it a drama that subverts rom-com tropes, more along the lines of “Promising Young Woman,” or an erotic thriller like “Fatal Attraction,” a film that was “definitely was on the list,” per David, as an influence for Nicholson’s performance?

For writer/director David, the murky answer is the whole point of the film.

“This film is probably not going to resonate with anyone who doesn’t have a somewhat personal experience to a relationship like this,” David told IndieWire. “We’re very aware of that. But we just really wanted to make a movie that was a grounded representation of emotional abuse, particularly in an emotionally abusive relationship. People who have been through something like this can hopefully feel seen during such a confusing, isolating experience.”

David added that, throughout the research process, while writing the script with Kalani, she discovered the gravity of such issues, especially among twentysomethings, in the modern dating world.

“We love comedy, and we also like making things that have some kind of [message] and do mean something. This was a story we felt like we wanted to tell,” David said. “We really wanted to make a rom-com for our generation, something that just felt relatable to the dating pool now. While doing both of those things, we kind of came to this realization that a rom-com can also include meeting someone who ends up being toxic. We satirized the love-bombing, and that became our movie.”

But buzz words like “narcissism” and phrases such as “love-bombing” have taken over modern TikTok-centric vernaculars, with Gen Zers using psychological diagnoses as social media captions — something that David hopes to correct with “I Love You Forever” and dispel the trendiness of.

“The vernacular is so popular and so overused and misused. We wanted to show what a lot of those words actually mean that we’re all so obsessed with using,” David said. “It is interesting because we didn’t feel like we explained it enough in a lot of ways. It really just is the portrayal of the relationship. And there were times when we were like, ‘Should we be giving more information about narcissism?’ And then we just were like, ‘Fuck it.'”

David then asked, “Do you think you think some people will … understand it? That it’s not too specific?”

Cazzie David, Elisa Kalani<cite>Courtesy of Falco Ink</cite>
Cazzie David, Elisa KalaniCourtesy of Falco Ink

The discomfort of watching “I Love You Forever” veer from a cute rom-com to a would-be horror movie is the crux of why the feature does, in fact, resonate despite David’s apprehensions. Sure, it’s a heightened story, but what romantic relationship doesn’t have heightened emotions? Audiences are in the middle of Mackenzie and Finn’s fights, in the best way possible.

“It was extremely intentional,” co-writer/co-director Kalani said, “but the one thing we didn’t want to do [was] have it be like a true thriller. There isn’t really that much out there about strictly emotional abuse that doesn’t have any sort of physical element to it. It just felt really important that that would be on the screen. … Every other movie about relationships and abuse ends dramatically. We wanted it to be really grounded and real, and we wanted the audience to leave feeling how our lead Mackenzie might kind of be feeling towards the end of something like this.”

David added, “All the movies we watched about abuse ended in a murder or a car chase. We instead really wanted people to feel like, ‘Oh, this was very close to my experience.'”

David and Kalani, both on IndieWire’s list of female filmmakers to watch in 2024, partnered with Oscar winner Diablo Cody as a producer on the feature. The casting process was entirely dependent on which stars connected with the storyline, something that David admitted is an unconventional way to approach making a feature.

“We really ended up casting people who resonated with the subject material, which is probably not how you should cast most things, but it ended up really working out in our favor,” David said of Black-D’Elia and Nicholson in the lead roles. “Because it is such a complex topic, and there does need to be a lot of research that goes into it, if you do have a personal experience that helps you kind of portray it. For both of these roles, it was super helpful.”

Kalani added, “Ray is just so magnetic, and Sofia is just incredible in everything she does. We were really just so lucky and grateful that we got to work with them.”

David also had to point to Nicholson and Black-D’Elia’s “insane chemistry,” which was a “huge bonus” in selling the faux rom-com elements building up to the slow burn of the reveal. David, too, had to step aside at times due to her own acting commitment for the feature.

“As far as the acting and directing, I definitely leaned on Elisa for most of those days. It was hard,” David said. “I wasn’t expecting it, but I would end up kind of watching them and directing them in a scene, and then they’d be like, ‘It’s your line,’ and I would just completely forget, obviously, that I was in the scene with them. So Elisa was definitely super helpful during those days.”

While “I Love You Forever” is still seeking distribution following its March premiere at SXSW, the filmmaking duo behind the feature hope audiences don’t just eventually watch it on their phones … or even on dreaded TikTok with #narcissism in the background.

“Most people are watching TV shows on TikTok right now, so Netflix feels like old Hollywood at this point,” Kalani said. “Wherever it ends up where the most people who will appreciate it can see it, would be a dream for us. We’re excited and terrified of the festival premiere, so let’s see what happens.”

David added, “If you don’t end up watching it on your phone, we’ll be really happy.”

But David and Kalani’s real shared wish is for “I Love You Forever” to find its audience, the one that the film attempts to capture. “There’s obviously a million different ways you can write this movie. For [Finn], I think when people think of a narcissist, they think of a confident, charming, peacocky guy. And we chose someone who might be more vulnerable and seemingly compassionate and also a victim. There’s a million different types of these people, and this is just one of them,” David said. “We just want this movie to find its audience for people to recognize this.”

“I Love You Forever” is for a select (and hopefully, small) group of people who have endured this kind of relationship abuse, without knowing a way out. As Kalani summed up, “Just you saying you resonated with it and [acknowledging] your connection to the story is exactly why we wanted to make it. It’s mostly for the people who have either lived through something like this or think that they’re in something like this but aren’t sure. We just wanted people to feel less alone.”

“I Love You Forever” premiered at the 2024 SXSW Film & TV Festival. The film is currently seeking distribution. Read the IndieWire review here.

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