SXSW capsule review: ‘I Believe In Unicorns’
“There’s so much I want to say, but I don’t know where to start.”
Writer/director Leah Meyerhoff’s dreamlike debut feature is a very personal project. Like the film’s lead character Davina (Natalia Dyer), Meyerhoff herself grew up taking care of her single mother who was in a wheelchair. In fact, her own mother Toni plays the mother in this film, a fictionalized account of her youth.
Davina feels at once to be much wiser than her years and also curiously naive. She escapes the pain of caring for her mother by losing herself in photography and her best friend Cassidy (Julia Garner), who gives her a Polaroid camera for her birthday. While at a local park, she begins taking pictures of some skateboarders across the way and finds herself attracted to an older guy named Sterling. With his tussled hair and leather jacket, he fulfills the ‘bad boy’ image. Sterling aimlessly plays it cool with his friends, but is oddly aloof when he’s alone with a girl.
Unless, of course, he’s been drinking. In sharp contrast to his initial affectionate demeanor, Davina find him to be downright cruel when she shows up to see him later when he’s hanging around with his friends. This struggle continues to rear its ugly head as their relationship progresses, with him admitting that his father used to physically attack him and his mother. Even if he doesn’t intend to, it appears as though he cannot fully break that cycle of anger and violence ingrained in him at an early age.
Where does this leave Davina? She escapes into her own mind often. With the help of beautiful sequences done in stop-motion animation, we see her as a unicorn and Sterling as a dragon. She aims to keep his temper under control. “Only a virgin can tame a unicorn,” she says before he replies “I think it’s the other way around.”
Executive Produced by Allison Anders (“Gas Food Lodging”, “Grace Of My Heart”), ‘Unicorns’ is a complex and imaginative coming-of-age story.
“I Believe In Unicorns” screens again tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Rollins Theatre and also plays there again on Thursday at 2 p.m.