Loosely based on the true story of Frances Toto and her four unsuccessful attempts to kill her cheating husband, Anthony Toto, in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1984. Anthony spent four days in bed after being drugged and shot by Frances and her friends; who spent four years in prison after pleading guilty to attempted murder. The Turner Classic Movies website states that the film's " . . . story was inspired by events in the lives of Anthony and Frances Toto and Barry Giacobe".
Kevin Kline requested that his wife, Phoebe Cates, take a small role in the film. She appeared in the bar/disco scene as the girl Joey picks up at the bar. She did this as a cameo appearance and as a favor to her husband. She was also filming Drop Dead Fred (1991) at the time of her cameo in this film, which is why her hair looks exactly the same in both films.
Costume Designer Aggie Guerard Rodgers made certain that the actors and actresses were dressed as realistically as possible. Rosalie Boca (Tracey Ullman) looks like a small-town working-class mother who has opted for comfort over style. Joey Boca (Kevin Kline), when he removes his pizza apron for a night out, dresses like the flamboyant extrovert that he is. Nadja (Joan Plowright) has collected an eclectic wardrobe from thrift shops. Devo (River Phoenix) loves '60s hippie clothes and jewelry. Harlan (William Hurt) and Marlon (Keanu Reeves) wear outfits that defy explanation.
Filming began on-location in Tacoma, Washington, on April 10, 1989. Lawrence Kasdan wanted the backdrop of this to have an industrial, small-town feeling, much like that of the area in West Virginia, where he was raised. Tacoma rests in a bowl around a harbor. Throughout the city, a huge paper mill can be seen pumping smoke into the sky 24 hours a day. Kasdan said: "At times it's very beautiful, this complex of lights and smoke and industry, set against a background of magnificent mountains and water. It's a real American scene with the defiling, yet necessary, industry happening in the midst of this beautiful country".
Some scenes in Tacoma, Washington, were shot at the triangular Bostwick Building, located at the foot of Tacoma's Antique Row. Reminiscent of New York City's famed Flatiron Building, its shape is like an oversized slice of Joey's pizza. Here, Joey Boca's Pizzeria, designed by Production Designer Lilly Kilvert, was constructed as a fully functioning working restaurant. Before filming began, the actors and actresses performed their chores in character at the restaurant for staff and crew members, who acted as customers. The second floor of this building served as the "Villa Rosalie" apartments, where landlord Joey Boca (Kevin Kline) spends his spare time fixing the "pipes" of his female tenants.
Everything in the script was aimed toward rain, since the area is noted for its heavy rainfall. But during the filming, there was an lengthy drought with beautiful, sunny weather. Director of Photography Owen Roizman was forced to make adjustments to compensate for the lack of rain. "We were constantly fighting sunlight," Roizman says, "thinking that the next day it would be gray and we were going to match everything to it."
First film that Lawrence Kasdan directed, that he didn't write. Kasdan said: "The screenplay made me laugh out loud when I read it, but l was also taken with the emotional level of the piece. There is something very touching, almost sweet about it, even though it's a very dark story, and people do terrible things in it. You understand them all, and they're not evil people."
The true events that inspired the fictional "I Love You to Death" first came to the attention of Producer Ron Moler in 1984, when he heard the story of Tony Toto and Frances Toto, and the five unsuccessful attempts on Tony's life. Moler and co-Producer Patrick Wells began developing the material for a theatrical film, and brought Screenwriter John Kostmayer in to write the script. The characters of Joey Boca (Kevin Kline) and Rosalie Boca (Tracey Ullman) , Kostmayer said, are people driven by passion to behave irrationally, but who "have a sweetness in them so deep, that they're prepared' to forgive infidelity, attempted murder, lies, betrayal, every crime against marriage, and start all over again".
Filming locales in Tacoma, Washington, included the Holy Rosary Church, Stadium High School Bowl, and the Java Jive, a unique restaurant/bar shaped like a coffee pot. Further, a large old house on Tacoma's north-side, with a panoramic view of Commencement Bay and the Port of Tacoma, was the site for the exteriors of the Boca household. Moreover, the former Elks Club building was turned into a police station, where the perpetrators of the attempted murder of Joey Boca are detained and questioned.
Following the completion of location work, the company returned to Hollywood to film the interior of the Boca household and smaller sets on soundstages at Raleigh Studios. The home decorating in the Boca household, as envisioned by Lilly Kilvert, reflects Rosalie Boca's (Tracey Ullman's) state of mind. Kilvert said: "Rosalie did not have a plan, nothing quite fits together. She's so busy trying not to see what's actually happening in her life, that her projects don't work out. The tilting teacup wallpaper in her kitchen is like a metaphor for Rosalie, she's piling up all these teacups, hoping that they won't fall over."
Ron Moler said of this movie: "I Love You to Death (1990) is a love story, in that love survives five attempted murders. In the end, Joey Boca (Kevin Kline) realizes how much his wife loves him, and how much he loves her."
One of two movies (as of April 2016), directed by Lawrence Kasdan, and starring Kevin Kline, where the latter portrayed a European character. In French Kiss (1995), Kline played a Frenchman, whereas in this movie, Kline portrays an Italian man.
Owen Roizman and Lawrence Kasdan agreed that they were not going to shoot this movie to look like a comedy. Roizman said: "I tried to keep it on the dark side wherever possible, because the story, although a comedy, is dark, and Kasdan prefers the richness of low-key, realistic image."