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Laura Dern Steps Up to Support Animated Short About Grief in the Face of Tragedy

Netflix’s Academy Award-nommed “If Anything Happens I Love You” moves viewers by speaking to current events and the universal experience of loss

Courtesy of Netflix
Courtesy of Netflix

When the animated short “If Anything Happens I Love You” debuted on Netflix, it soon became a viral sensation. Viewers found the dialogue-free film, about two parents grappling with grief after losing their daughter in a school shooting, so moving it spawned a “Can you get through this film without crying?” challenge online.

Millions failed that challenge.

But they weren’t the first. Nearly a year earlier, a screening for actor Laura Dern had the same effect.

“When I watched it, my heart broke open,” she recalls. “I couldn’t stop crying.”

At that point, in early 2020, it was still just an animatic early in the edit phase, screened for Dern by the film’s writers-directors, Will McCormack and Michael Govier. When her tears dried, she was left both devastated and determined.

Dern and producing partner Jayme Lemons volunteered to get involved with the project. They told Govier and McCormack, who had self-funded the animatic, that they would do whatever they could to help get “If Anything Happens I Love You” in front of as many eyes as possible.

“Because this film is without dialogue, it truly explores the universal language of grief, and particularly grief from gun violence, in such an impactful way,” says Dern. “Jayme and I knew the urgency of the message. We knew the tragic necessity of continuing to fight for an issue that should have been resolved in the United States a long time ago.”

Govier, McCormack, and producer Maryann Garger leapt at the opportunity to work with Dern and Lemons, and asked if the two women would join the team. The duo signed on through their production company Jaywalker Pictures.

“We really admire the work that Laura and Jayme put out into the world,” explained the duo in an email interview. “They tell stories that matter, and work diligently and passionately as producers.”

Dern and Lemons agreed to come on board as the film’s executive producers alongside Gary Gilbert of Gilbert Films. On Nov. 20, “If Anything Happens I Love You” debuted on Netflix. Just eight days later, with the help of Dern’s social media posts, it went viral. TikTok subscribers began recording before and after reactions to the short. The hashtag #ifanythinghappensiloveyou garnered over 67 million views.

Enough Academy voters felt the same to earn the film a nomination for Best Animated Short. That speaks to both concerns about gun violence and the film’s universal themes.

“Every person has a right to feel safe in schools, in supermarkets and in their homes, and we cannot and will not accept this national tragedy as just another fact of life,” say the directors. “This film is a reflection on grief, and we’re honored to know that others have found it to be a tool for processing their grief.”

While “If Anything Happens I Love You” is an elegy for all the parents and families who have lost loved ones to gun violence, it speaks to anyone who has ever experienced loss.

Dern credits the male directing duo as well as the all-female animation team behind the film for its accessibility and relatability.

“I fell so in love with the animation,” Dern says. “It is esoteric and spiritual in nature. It feels like a warm wind as you’re watching it — memory and grief often feel like that. There’s such love in it. What struck me most was feeling the ghost of the couple’s daughter in the imagery. It conveys the feeling that we’re carrying those we’ve lost around with us throughout our lives, that we’re carrying our heartbreaks with us.”

Dern reveals that the narrative short’s 2D animation, its mostly gray-and-white palette and its use of anthropomorphic shadows spoke to a heartbreaking surprise from within her own family.

“One thing that really struck me was when my 16-year-old daughter watched the film with me during the pandemic,” Dern recalls. “She said, ‘I’ve been trying to think of the positives of going to school online during COVID. As hard as it’s been, at least I don’t have to be scared of being killed when I go to school in the morning.’ That was quite devastating to hear. I’ve learned from a lot of teenagers who’ve seen the film that they have been carrying that awareness through these last months, that at least being in their room on (video calls) is a safe way to participate in school.”

A member of Everytown for Gun Safety’s Creative Council, Dern has been a longtime advocate of gun violence prevention. Her involvement with “If Anything Happens I Love You” is yet another step the actor is taking to promote unity.

“My greatest hope is that the film acts as a universal shared experience,” she says. “This moment marks the first time in our lifetimes that we’ve had a collective global experience like this. We have shared the experience of this pandemic. We have considered climate change. The same must be true of the ever-present question of grief as a part of our lives.”