‘I Love You Forever’ Review: A Suffocating Beau Ties Together Genres in a Nifty Millennial Rewrite of Rom-Coms

“I Love You Forever” has all the trappings of a romantic comedy, for better or worse. In the whipsmart millennial-skewing film where you’re old if you’ve been caught using a third-generation iPhone, there’s something charmingly antiquated about the scene filmmakers Cazzie David and Elisa Kalani set around Mackenzie (Sofia Black D’Elia), a law student who has a pair of bickering best friends (Jon Rudnitsky and Cazzie David) to constantly amuse her and a personal life punctuated by Jessica Simpson and Michelle Branch needle drops. Such retro touches aside, their subversive spin on the genre doesn’t seem as if it could’ve been made any earlier than 2024, amid talk that emotional manipulation in a relationship can be every bit as pernicious as physical abuse, as Mackenzie experiences when she falls for the wrong guy.

For previous generations, the wrong guy was more likely to resemble Mark Wahlberg in “Fear,” apt to terrorize an entire family if he doesn’t get what he wants from his partner. These days, it’s easier to accept that he probably looks more like Finn (Ray Nicholson), the charming TV news reporter Mackenzie meets at a friend’s birthday party. At first, the only suspicions he raises are with his bold romantic gestures, like the way he books an entire restaurant for their first date when she doesn’t believe she’ll make a good first impression eating in public. Yet they are soon accompanied by microaggressions and pleas for attention when Mackenzie dares bestow it anywhere else.

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When “I Love You Forever” adheres to the basic beats of a rom-com, the effect is shrewdly disorienting. The co-helmers want audiences to swoon until things go sour, at which point, it’s hard for Mackenzie to consider the alternative to the cultural narratives she’s grown up with. She’s not about to tell others about her new beau’s controlling ways when questioning it seems futile.

If, like Finn, the rat-a-tat repartee and sharp observational humor seem too good to be true, “I Love You Forever” arrives with pedigree. “Juno” and “Lisa Frankenstein” duo Diablo Cody and Mason Novick are among its producers, and co-director Cazzie David is the daughter of “Curb Your enthusiasm” creator Larry David, inevitably setting up comparisons that the writing-directing duo may play into, only to abruptly dismiss with trendy wisecracks about Instagram etiquette and dating algorithms.

That quick wit becomes necessary when the film is a noticeably low-budget affair. Subtle ways in which the filmmakers cut corners lead to more overwrought dramatic moments. At times, the limited shot selection can feel like a casualty of an unforgiving schedule. Likewise, sparely dressed sets become a liability when there doesn’t actually seem like much of a life for Mackenzie to go back to after Finn makes her whole world about him. (From Michael Penn’s sprightly synth score and a soundtrack that includes Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers,” it seems music was the one area where no expense was spared.) Still, it seems almost apropos that Black D’Elia has the strength to rise above it as her character does when dealing with the largely imperceptible inhibitions Finn inspires.

Mackenzie is given a vague backstory, noncommittal in all areas of her life, from her pursuit of a law degree to an ongoing casual sex relationship with one of her classmates for nearly two years, so you can instantly imagine her excitement when Finn comes along promising to take care of her. Yet Black D’Elia not only keeps one invested in this potentially wishy-washy heroine, but is just as convincing in sticking by Finn when it’s clearly time to leave as she is in falling for him in the first place. He’s not about to give her an easy way out, nor do David and Kalani for the more admirable reason of exposing how tight that grip can be on someone. In observing how Mackenzie absorbs feelings of shame for any time she’s disappointed him, they consider all those who hold onto romantic notions too long, finding a fresh take on a toxic relationship.

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