Late last night I stumbled across a film called I Believe in Unicorns. I vaguely remembered seeing a trailer for it a while back, but hadn’t heard much about the movie or release date since then.
Rarely do I write full-scale reviews of films as oppose to solely recommending them, but I think it’s important to break down this movie specifically and elaborate on what separates it from so many others in it’s same coming-of-age drama. This movie is artful and innovative. Every standard coming-of-age/teen-girl moment is balanced with a tenderness and relatable naivety thanks to writer/director Leah Meyerhoff and her lead, Natalia Dyer. Dyer plays Davina, a waifish and innocent teenaged girl who spends the majority of her time purposely weaving magic and playfulness into her tense life— due in part to the fact that she is solely responsible for caring for her handicapped Mom, played by Meyerhoff’s own Mother. The primary storyline of this short film (stretching a mere 80 minutes in length) takes shape when Davina meets Sterling; a slightly older, initially charming, greasy-haired skater who chain smokes and hides out in dirty punk clubs. Bare with me here, because the visuals and the subtlety in this film completely counteract the cliched manner in which it’s delivered on paper— that’s a testament once again to Meyerhoff and Dyer. Dyer, I believe, we'll be seeing much more of-- she has a really special quality about her and is a joy to watch. I’ll let you make your own assessments on the relationship between Davina and Sterling. Primarily what I’d like to celebrate here are the feelings this film evokes from it’s audience. Speaking for myself, at least, I found large components of the movie to be very accurate and relatable. Early on in your teenaged years, there is a naivety surrounding the concept of authentic love—like the unicorns and fairytales and other mythical ideas you’ve cherished— at that time in your life you’ve only really witnessed portrayals of great love through the books you’ve read or films you’ve seen. When you’re a kid, you want desperately for magic to exist, so you seek out signs that substantiate it’s existence. Young “love” is like that. I remember being a freshman in high school and painfully pining for affection from the boy I liked. I would covet small tokens and gestures of kindness. A borrowed hoodie may as well have been an engagement ring. My crush bought me Twix on my birthday from a vending machine and I remember thinking “He only had a dollar, and he spent it on my snack.” This is the time in your life where you’re transitioning out of being a kid and quietly harboring crushes— it’s the first time you’re acting on impulse, keeping secrets, and savoring moments that feel important to you. Some will argue that I Believe in Unicorns is twee to a fault. Conceptually, I understand that, but this movie has it’s heart. I’ve mentioned many times my adoration for Sofia Coppola’s adaption of The Virgin Suicides. The languid and dreamy aesthetic of this film reminds me a bit of Sofia’s movie. Both Coppola and Meyerhoff have a talent for celebrating girlishness— through press-on tattoos, polaroid cameras, fairy lights, iridescent stickers, and journals stuffed with secrets. Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography and skillfully selected combination of film stock is a tremendous asset in what makes this film come alive as it does. I Believe in Unicorns does not deliver the melodramatic trauma of big-budget coming-of-age films, and I’m thankful for that.