I Believe in Unicorns is a bildunsroman of a seemingly average order. A teenage outcast–one who is childlike in a way that she shouldn’t be, but somehow it makes perfect sense–falls for a rebellious skater/punk with long hair and unnatural charisma.
The two, Davina (Natalia Dyer) and Sterling (Peter Vack), have a love story. Davina is virginal and naive, yet her voiceover narration (seemingly looking back on the events) is very grounded in the reality of the situation.
Davina and Sterling run away together to start an exciting and spontaneous life on their own. Davina abandons her wheelchair-bound mother, and Sterling lives with the haunting past of his abusive father.
Our protagonist, Davina, is intriguing. Her reluctance to mature clashes with her desire to do just that, causing her inner turmoil. Her maturation, indeed, occurs in her head as a fantasy.
These fantasies, with their stop motion animation and color alterations, are by and away the best sequences in the film. This, it seems, is where the director’s vision comes to life. Staging creates a visual aesthetic that is engaging to the eye, even when these fantastical sequences do not add anything to the narrative whole.
The rest of the film falls closer to convention. The depth of the characters help derail the narrative, but up until the final third it all feels like it’s been done before, hindering the picture as a whole from breaking out of indie-film purgatory.
The emotions are there, palpable and relatable. The character’s have chemistry in their youthful charge. The actors play off of each other well, aided closely by a sparse script. And, the film is directed with whimsy. The camera is free and the soundtrack is vibrant. The only problem the film runs into is its conventional first two acts (aside from the dream sequences).
Overall, I was engaged enough with the characters and superior directing of the visuals to ignore the narrative problems of I Believe in Unicorns. The film is certainly worth a watch (and is currently on Netflix and Amazon Video).
As always, thanks for reading!
Have you seen I Believe in Unicorns? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!