I BELIEVE IN UNICORNS (2014)

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4 star| Dir: Leah Meyerhoff

Towards the beginning of Meyerhoff’s enchanting debut feature, teenage escapist Davina (Natalia Dyer) is presented a task by her teacher to take a self portrait that displays exactly who she is. This begins a discovery process for her as she embarks on a literal and philosophical journey to overcome the admission that she doesn’t “know who I am sometimes.” Becoming besotted with local metalhead skater Sterling (Peter Vack), she breaks away from the grounding responsibility of caring for her wheelchair bound mother to pursue a romanticized one way trip to “anywhere but here”.

During their voyage they visit a skate rink where Davina struggles while Sterling is smoothly adapted to a life on wheels. It’s reflective of the dynamic to their relationship and the sense of place that they have in life, as her general inexperience and need to force progression glosses over their affection. Though their options are as lengthy as Sterling’s flowing hair, Davina becomes trapped in a cycle of ecstasy and agony with Sterling traversing from sweet shepherd to cruel, violent boyfriend. His past is an interesting element that is suitably left unanswered. It’s about Davina’s odyssey and his effect on her but we’re given just enough insight to understand where his behaviour is rooted – not in the dreams he supposedly lives, but the nightmares of his abusive father.

There’s a youthful naivety to Davina which is skillfully balanced with an innocent optimism. She’s infatuated with fantasy and idealism that’s reflected in the title of the film and illustrates a gratifying disposition that will carry her through life’s troubles and miseries. The stunning performances from the two leads are essential to maintaining the credibility of the feature as their naturalism is complimented with gorgeous, Gondry-esque dreamlike stop-motion sequences which displays Davina’s mindset at that phase of the narrative. They are never superfluous or out of place; on the contrary, they enhance the road movie with another warm and delicate dimension to the journey.

We never do get to see the self-portrait which Davina considers to display who she is, and I don’t think her teacher does either. Despite requiring 10-15 additional minutes to allow some moments more time to breathe, Meyerhoff’s somewhat autobiographical coming-of-age piece gracefully speaks to our inert desire to define ourselves – especially at a young age – without understanding that life is a series of revelations and awakenings that create a fluid exploration and diagnosis of self.

Edinburgh International Film Festival, 2014.

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Filed under Edinburgh Film Festival, 2014, Reviews

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