MOVIE REVIEW: ‘I Believe In Unicorns’ Showcases Young Love

I-Believe-In-Unicorns

Film: I Believe In Unicorns
Starring: Natalia Dyer, Peter Vack
Directed by: Leah Meyerhoff

With whim and creativity to spare, I Believe In Unicorns may be the most innovative coming-of-age film you see all year.

Davina (Natalia Dyer) is a lonely teen girl who spends her days going to school, fantasizing about unicorns, and taking care of her invalid father. To say she seems depressed at the start of the film would likely be an understatement. It’s unclear whether or not Davina can even remember a time she felt joy when we first meet her, but soon life as she knows it begins to unravel after she catches the eye of her longtime skater boy crush, Sterling (Peter Vack). He’s older and mysterious, with long hair and a bad attitude that seems to be the result of unresolved issues with his now-absent father, as well as the abuse incurred by his hand.

The tale of Davina and Sterling is pretty by-the-numbers as far as teen romance is concerned. Their initial encounter is as awkward as can be, with each trying to express interest in the other without coming across too strong, but soon the walls they’ve each built to keep others at bay begin to crumble. Davina feels safe with Sterling. More importantly, she feels alive, and as their relationship begins to further develop audiences are given a front row seat to an impressionistic portrait of what that time in a young person’s life feels like. From the highest heights to the lowest lows, filmmaker Leah Meyerhoff blends classic narrative with dream sequences and pure fantasy to try and express the countless thoughts and emotions that race through one’s mind when they feel they’ve first discovered true love. The results are, to say the least, not unlike a roller coaster.

Leah Meyerhoff has an imagination second to no one in film today, and she uses it to make even the most mundane aspects of Davina’s existence spring to life. It’s almost as if she took a class on making films like Terrance Malick, then decided to apply her knowledge to making a film that feels as if it were made specifically for teenage women trying to understand the true meaning of love and devotion. By tapping into the dreams and fantasies of Davina the film is able to express parts of the human experience rarely seen on film, and it does so through often brilliantly designed set pieces.

All of this would only work if the casting makes sense, and I’m not sure you could find two actors more suited to play young people running away from the constraints of everyday life in the name of love than Dyer and Vack. Their lack of instant recognition makes it easy to see the characters as real people, and the attraction between the two once their romance begins is, at times, palpable. Neither one has many credits at this point (Dyer is best known for The Hannah Montana Movie and Vack has a number of notable TV appearances), but it’s not hard to imagine each becoming prominent young actors once hype for their turns in this film begins to spread.

Where I Believe In Unicorns falls short is with its core story. With a length of just over 71 minutes, there is not a lot of time for audiences to meet the characters, grasp their relationship, and properly process everything that happens after love first sparks while also taking in the absolutely gorgeous visual wizardly Meyerhoff leverages to accent the emotional notes of the film. As a result, the film chooses style over substance, overwhelming the viewer with all sorts of editing trickery instead of focusing on developing a well-structured story. It’s as if Meyerhoff assumed audiences would be so lost in the stylized sequences they wouldn’t mind being shorted on the emotional front, but as the film builds towards its unearned conclusion it’s the lack of engaging narrative that ultimately pulls you out of the entire experience.

I hesitate to recommend I Believe In Unicorns to the average moviegoer, but anyone hoping to see some truly forward-thinking theatrical storytelling would be wise to seek out Leah Meyerhoff’s debut feature as soon as they are able. The tale of Davina and Sterling is one we may have heard dozens of times before, both on screens big and small, but I can assure you that you have never witnessed a love story told quite the way it is presented in this film. I Believe In Unicorns is an experience unlike any other, and though it falls short in regards to its narrative there is plenty here to enjoy. Take a chance and see it.

GRADE: C+

Written by James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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