I recently had the opportunity to watch I Believe In Unicorns, the feature film debut of filmmaker Leah Meyeroff, which chronicles that pivotal coming of age moment in every teenagers life.
Focusing on and centering around protagonist, Davina, played by actress Natalia Dyer, the film sees her go through her first experience of love, with Sterling - the oh-so-handsome "bad boy," played by Peter Vack.
The film looks at young love through refreshingly realistic glasses, using a mix of traditionally shot footage and classic stop-frame animation. Doing so gives the film that unique edge, that takes it away from the typical coming of age movie, and moves it into far more interesting territory.
The film wastes no time in getting its two main characters together, and in doing so, bypasses the overdone and cliched "meeting" of its two protagonists, so common in coming of age films. They meet, they click, and so the story begins.
Throughout the film, the stop-frame animated scenes make their appearance, illustrating different scenes with a mix of Unicorn puppets, and "normal" objects. The idea of these scenes, is that they exist within the world that Davina has created inside her mind. A world, that coincides with the experiences and feelings she is having as she experiences her first romance.
These cut-away scenes, most shot in stop-motion with objects and props, a few shot traditionally with the actress, whilst beautifully put together, seem to fall flat in trying to find their place within the film. They often seem out of place, and at first glance, have no immediate connection to Davina's story. With minimal dialogue throughout, it's not explicitly clear until the middle of the film, that these cut-away scenes bare resemblance to and are in relation to, the main "action" of the film.
When the relationship between Davina and Sterling starts to show cracks, the cut-away scenes seem to hold more significance, and actually make sense within the narrative of the film. The last few cut-away scenes we see, tie in directly with the narrative, and help to move your understanding of the film forward, in a way that the initial scenes tried and failed to do.
Natalia Dyer and Peter Vack both do a brilliant job at portraying their respective characters. Dyer plays Davina's innocent and curious nature to a tee, with Vack nailing the balance between Sterling's charming yet dangerous personality.
Whilst the film fully explores the relationship between the two, it does so mostly from Davina's point of view, so when we see the dangerous side of Sterling. We only ever get a glimpse of how horrible it could get, and yet receive no explanation for why he is the way he is. A maddening aspect of the film, that could just be down to my incessant need to know everything about a potential love interest for a protagonist.
The film also touches upon a hint of something deeper - in relation to both their parents, yet misses the opportunity to fully or even in part, explore that. Davina explains that her dad is no longer in the picture, and that she now takes care of her disabled and wheelchair-bound mother full-time, however one look at her face as she's doing so, suggests she's a little reluctant to. Whilst this sets up her need for adventure with Sterling, it leaves quite a few questions as to whether she cares about her mother at all. As when she leaves on her trip with Sterling, presumably her mother is left alone the entire time, and Davina doesn't seem to give this a second thought.
In one fleeting comment, Davina asks if Sterling is going to be "violent like his father," however never mentions it again, and as Sterling himself never utters so much as a whisper about his family, we'll be forever pondering over that comment.
All in all, I Believe In Unicorns is a refreshing take on an old genre. It's beautiful locations, prove for a visually appealing film, with the star power in its two main cast members to back it up. Whilst the narrative and genre in and of itself is a fairly simple one, it still manages to captivate from the very first frame, until the last. I can't help but feel as though there were some missed opportunities to do more, but at only 80 minutes in length, I think the film certainly achieves and accomplishes all it set out to.
I'd give I Believe in Unicorns a solid 7/10 stars, for enthralling me in a film & genre that ordinarily I wouldn't necessarily be a fan of.
I Believe In Unicorns opens theatrically at IFC Center in NYC May 29th 2015!
You can also check it out June 12th in San Francisco and June 19th in Los Angeles.