Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
First Look: Matt Damon As An Astronaut In Ridley Scott’s ‘The Martian’ First Look: Matt Damon As An Astronaut In Ridley Scott’s ‘The Martian’ Cannes Review: Justin Kurzel's 'Macbeth' Starring Michael Fassbender & Marion Cotillard Cannes Review: Justin Kurzel's 'Macbeth' Starring Michael Fassbender & Marion Cotillard Watch: Incredible Vintage Footage Of Audience Reactions To 'The Exorcist' In 1973 Watch: Incredible Vintage Footage Of Audience Reactions To 'The Exorcist' In 1973 Cannes Review: Gaspar Noé's Hardcore And Softhearted 'Love' Cannes Review: Gaspar Noé's Hardcore And Softhearted 'Love' Here's The Character Backstory For Doof aka Guitar Flamethrower Dude In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' Here's The Character Backstory For Doof aka Guitar Flamethrower Dude In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' Cannes Review: Hou Hsiao-Hsien's 'The Assassin' Is An Epic Visual Poem Cannes Review: Hou Hsiao-Hsien's 'The Assassin' Is An Epic Visual Poem The 10 Most Controversial Cannes Films Ever The 10 Most Controversial Cannes Films Ever Roger Deakins To Shoot Denis Villeneuve's 'Blade Runner' Sequel Roger Deakins To Shoot Denis Villeneuve's 'Blade Runner' Sequel More NSFW Posters For Gaspar Noe's 3D 'Love' Plus The Official Director's Statement More NSFW Posters For Gaspar Noe's 3D 'Love' Plus The Official Director's Statement Cannes: Watch A Three Way Makeout In The First Clip From Gaspar Noe’s 3D ‘Love’ Plus New NSFW Image Cannes: Watch A Three Way Makeout In The First Clip From Gaspar Noe’s 3D ‘Love’ Plus New NSFW Image Simon Pegg Worries That Adults Obsessed With Comics & Sci-Fi Have Become "Infantilized By Our Own Taste" Simon Pegg Worries That Adults Obsessed With Comics & Sci-Fi Have Become "Infantilized By Our Own Taste" Cannes Review: Denis Villeneuve's 'Sicario' Starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin And Benicio Del Toro Cannes Review: Denis Villeneuve's 'Sicario' Starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin And Benicio Del Toro George Miller Says He Courted Heath Ledger To Lead 'Mad Max' In 2006, Reveals Title For 'Fury Road' Sequel George Miller Says He Courted Heath Ledger To Lead 'Mad Max' In 2006, Reveals Title For 'Fury Road' Sequel Watch: Michael Fassbender Takes The Stage In First Trailer For 'Steve Jobs' Watch: Michael Fassbender Takes The Stage In First Trailer For 'Steve Jobs' George Miller Says 'Interstellar' Came Close To What His Version Of 'Contact' Would've Been Like George Miller Says 'Interstellar' Came Close To What His Version Of 'Contact' Would've Been Like New NSFW, Extremely Graphic, Adults-Only Poster For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' New NSFW, Extremely Graphic, Adults-Only Poster For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

SXSW Review: Fantastical 'I Believe In Unicorns' Rings True

Photo of Katie Walsh By Katie Walsh | The Playlist March 10, 2014 at 4:38PM

A much discussed topic in the film world recently has been the dearth of women directors in mainstream filmmaking and the impact that this has on the representation of girls and women, and their experiences on screen. Thankfully, the independent film world has a much better track record with female filmmakers, and writer/director’s Leah Meyerhoff’s “I Believe in Unicorns” is a fine example of just why a female point of view can be so important, so necessary in capturing female stories.
0
"I Believe in Unicorns"
IFC "I Believe in Unicorns"

A much discussed topic in the film world recently has been the dearth of women directors in mainstream filmmaking and the impact that this has on the representation of girls and women, and their experiences on screen. Thankfully, the independent film world has a much better track record with female filmmakers, and writer/director’s Leah Meyerhoff’s “I Believe in Unicorns” is a fine example of just why a female point of view can be so important, so necessary in capturing female stories. An all-too-familiar and complicated story of young love is the premise of ‘Unicorns,’ but Meyerhoff brings a fresh, creative, and entirely original take to the tale, weaving together a work that is at once fantastical, evocative and starkly realistic.

I Believe In Unicorns

Natalia Dyer stars as Davina, a luminous young teen—a dreamer and an artist who longs for more outside of her small and bleak life caring for her disabled single mother. Long-haired skater punk Sterling (Peter Vack) represents all things adventurous and romantic, and before long, they sweep each other off their feet (Davina has just as much a hand in it as he does). Like “It Felt Like Love,” another female-directed film about teen romance, ‘Unicorns’ is a film that accounts for the active sexual desire of the teenage girl, who isn’t simply a virginal maiden with no agency but a young woman exploring the many facets of burgeoning sexuality, whether sweet or scary (as it so often can be).

Davina and Sterling set off on a lovers-on-the-lam road trip, play-acting at a kind of romantic rebelliousness; a Bonnie & Clyde fantasy that doesn’t quite go all the way. As they realize all too soon however, though they’ve run away from their shitty lives and troubled parents, getting rid of family baggage is not so easy. As the saying goes, wherever you go, there you are. The road trip offers a break from the ordinary, but there’s no escaping yourself.

When things turn south, Davina loses herself in a fantasy, dream, or vision. These sequences, established from the outset of the film, are creative and wholly original and lovely, utilizing stop-motion animation, glorious costumes and props, playing with light and fire, a hand-sewn unicorn either guiding or menacing Davina on her journey. These fantasies, though, remain rooted in the realities of the world, which are at once dark, beautiful and terrifying—the film rides that edge, skittering on a razor's edge between tenderness, passion, and violence. It's confusing, like it should be, like how it actually is.

I Believe In Unicorns

The performances here are riveting, particularly Dyer as the teen who contains multitudes of contradictions: she seems fragile but demonstrates her strength, she’s moody and also joyful, she’s so painfully young and innocent but coming into her own as woman. Vack, as Sterling, isn’t given quite so much to work with as Dyer, but he’s skillful in switching from loving to menacing to cajoling in the blink of an eye. Their physical performances are remarkable, as well, in moments of playful roughhousing that suddenly turn violent. It’s bold and uncomfortable, but captures something really true in a way that isn’t often seen.

The narrative turns baggy and slows down around some of their road trip adventures, with Davina escaping into reality more and more as time goes on, and it wraps up a tad too neatly in the end, after such an emotionally complex and complicated journey. But it’s a film that is unique yet authentic in its perspective, and a truly creative and beautiful piece, original yet consistent in its style, all serving the truth of the story and the emotions within. 

"I Believe in Unicorns" is this magical-realist journey hosted by an imaginative protagonist, but for all the delving into Davina's subconscious, the film represents an experience that is all too common for young women, to varying degrees. It rings true, resonates as real even in its fantasies, because it is rooted in a place of authenticity, in subjectivity, in emotion and in storytelling. And that is what makes a film like this work so well. [B+]

Click here for more coverage from the 2014 SXSW Film Festival.

This article is related to: SXSW Film Festival, South By Southwest Film Conference and Festival (SXSW), I Believe In Unicorns, Leah Meyerhoff, Natalia Dyer


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates