This is a story about first loves and heartbreak, and filmmaker Leah Meyerhoff invites the audience in to witness young love unravel, as something that was once great turns abusive and harsh.
Strong performances by both Dyer and Vack, but unfortunately Meyerhoff fumbles in her execution. Promising, but not quite there. (JEP 3/5)
Review by Contributing Editor Jessica E. Perry
I Believe in Unicorns is writer/director Leah Meyerhoff’s first feature. It’s a good first start, but the film is clearly not one of a seasoned professional. While the fantastical elements were supposed to be just that–fantastical–I found them to be a quite literal and unnecessary interpretation of Davina’s inner monologue.
The film tells the story of the highs and lows of young love. “Davina” (Natalia Dyer) is a lonely teenage girl–presumably about 16–who lives with and takes care of her disabled mother. Although the viewer never gets any specifics about her mother’s illness, we know she is wheelchair-bound and that Davina has been taking care of her since her father left them.
On her birthday, Davina and a friend go to the park to open presents and girl chat. Davina has her sights set on one of the older skater boys across the park. What a coincidence, skater boy “Sterling” (Peter Vack) must have noticed her too, because he suddenly appears at her side, says a few words behind half-lidded eyes, and tells her to meet him tomorrow. He draws a map to meet-up place on her arm, and walks away. Young, innocent Davina never had any hope. With his bad boy charm she’s immediately smitten … and so it begins.
As the two spend more and more time together, Sterling begins to show abusive tendencies (both emotional and physical), but Davina only sees acts of love, so she falls deeper and deeper. Then the two angsty teens decide they would rather be “anywhere but here,” and I Believe in Unicorns suddenly turns into a road movie. Off they go in Sterling’s beaten up car to wherever the road may take them.
Davina’s live action story is intercut with stop motion animation, representing her teenage subconscious. While this is creative idea, the execution is clumsy and far too literal. When Davina is happy, the unicorn is happy. When Davina starts to feel threatened, so does the unicorn. Davina is assaulted by Sterling, and suddenly a dragon appears in the animation segments and starts attacking the unicorn. Real Davina walks away, while Dream Nymph Davina draws back her bow to silence the dragon and save the unicorn. After awhile, it was all a bit much.
Meyerhoff’s intentions were clear; the repeated imagery, the score, and the animation all had purpose. But the end result was overwhelmingly “student filmy.” While Meyerhoff clearly shows promise as a filmmaker, she’s not quite there yet. Nevertheless, the film boasts great performances by young actors Dyer and Vack, and while I Believe in Unicorns is not a film for everyone, it will speak to a certain audience that will applaud all the film school elements. But caution: If you’re not in that category, this is probably not the film for you.
© Jessica E. Perry FF2 Media (6/7/15)
Top Photo: Natalia Dyer as “Fantasy Davina.”
Bottom Photo: Dyer with Peter Vack as “Sterling.”
Photo Credits: Chloe Aftel
Although Davina and her mother do not have any in-depth conversations, they certainly do speak about many things over the course of the film.
But curiously, they never talk about Sterling. When she runs off with Sterling, Davina goes missing for an undisclosed amount of time, but when she returns, its like nothing has changed. Her mother never reacts; we do not see her worry and we do not see her relief. Even if Meyerhoff is all about the turmoil of teenage love and heartbreak, that does seem a bit off.