SXSW FILM 2014
By Don Simpson | March 11, 2014
Director: Leah Meyerhoff
Writer: Leah Meyerhoff
Starring: Natalia Dyer, Peter Vack, Julia Garner, Amy Seimetz, Joshua Leonard, Toni Meyerhoff
Davina (Natalia Dyer) is a daydream believer who is always looking for ways to escape the depressing mundanity of her young teenage life. As the sole caretaker of a severely disabled mother (Toni Meyerhoff), Davina’s grave responsibilities have forced her to mature emotionally faster than any girl her age should. With presumably just one close friend (Julia Garner) at school, Davina would much rather exist in her own creative universe than socialize with peers; so, she retreats into a fantastical playscape of stop motion creatures in order to forget that in reality she is stuck in a dank, claustrophobic household.
It seems perfectly logical that Davina would instantly fall in love with an older rebel, specifically a long-haired skateboarder, Sterling (Peter Vack), who represents the unbridled freedom that Davina desires. Upon meeting Sterling, Davina’s untapped sexuality instantly becomes uncorked and her hormones kick right into high gear. Due at least in part to her heightened emotional maturity, Davina is anxious to explore sexual relations with an experienced partner; thus, this virgin who has probably never kissed a boy prior to Sterling soon finds herself rounding the proverbial bases.
The late night sexcapades in Sterling’s squat are not nearly enough for the young lovers. They decide to hit the highway in an attempt to run away from the unhappiness of their families. As love-birds-on-the-run, Davina and Sterling act like characters from a road movie, adopting cinematic personas like Holly and Kit (Badlands) or Bonnie and Clyde (Bonnie & Clyde), just without all of the messy violence. It is not long, however, before Davina and Sterling learn that they cannot escape the brutal realities of their lives.
I have said it a million times and I will continue to say it several million times more — so get used to it — our world needs more female-centric stories told by female directors. Luckily, we do have films such as writer-director’s Leah Meyerhoff’s I Believe in Unicorns to provide audiences with a uniquely feminine perspective of the unmeasurable complications of young love. Meyerhoff’s film cleverly injects feminine elements to the typically masculinized road movie genre, establishing a novel hybrid world that is equally fantastic and realistic. Channelling the surreal universes of Jan Svankmajer (Alice, Faust), the animated segments are what make I Believe in Unicorns so damn amazingly magical; but, echoing the moods and tones of Davina’s reality, these dreamscapes can turn on a dime from transcendently beautiful to nightmarishly horrifying. I Believe in Unicorns is a relentless rollercoaster of emotions and that is precisely what teenage love is all about.