Sydney, Sydney Fringe Festival 2014

I Believe in Unicorns, SFF 2014

0 Comments 08 September 2014

Part indie-romance, part road movie and part coming-of-age film, writer/director Leah Meyerhoff explores familiar territory in I Believe In Unicorns. While it doesn’t exactly break new ground, the film does offer an affecting spin on teenage love, disenchantment and self-discovery.

We’re instantly submerged in the imaginative mind of young Davina (Natalia Dyer), captured by the dreamy underwater scene, old home videos and the Arcade-Fire-meets-Regina-Spektor soundtrack of the opening credits. When Davina finally, suddenly, surfaces from her underwater daydream, we get the sense that she feels trapped, having to take care of her disabled mother (Toni Meyerhoff), and longs to escape reality – which later comes in the form of Sterling (Peter Veck), a punkish, slacker type. She is rushing towards independence. He is chasing youthful abandon and recklessness. But both want to run away from their responsibilities, and so embark on a road trip together. Yet the further they travel, the distance between them grows and it soon becomes apparent they’re both at different points in their lives, headed in different directions. One wants to go back, the other forward, and ultimately, neither can settle on – nor reach – their destination. Although I Believe In Unicorns starts off dreamily, the relationship between Davina and Sterling is not as magical as the film’s title suggests.

If you think this film is going to be twee (all polaroids, sparklers and unicorns, which it does have), it’s more in the ilk of explosive cupcakes and melting doll faces – the stop motion in this film is absolutely mesmerising. It’s beautiful and twisted, which foreshadows the troubled relationship between Davina and Sterling. Although the believability of how these two characters can be attracted to each other (she’s a sensitive, sexually-naïve 16-year-old; he’s a good-looking older guy) is questionable on paper, the film is well-acted. Dyer has a strong screen presence, playing Davina with such intensity and emotional maturity, while Veck manages to balance broodiness with boyish charms.

It could be easy to dislike this film. The voiceover, dialogue, and storyline is stunted and awkward, but arguably poetic and beautiful in its simplicity.  Shot in super eight, there’s a warm, vintage tone to the film that contributes to its intense intimacy. The lens flare and filters in dreamlike sequences add to this Instagram-ish feel, which might irk not so much as displease certain camps in the audience. But Meyerhoff achieves a good balance with this aesthetic, weaving it in seamlessly with the main story, and using it purposefully to highlight the wild and vivid emotional terrain of adolescence.

In an industry that’s traditionally and overwhelmingly a boys club, writer/director Leah Meyerhoff emerges as a refreshing voice with her feature debut, which presents the experience of coming-of-age from a female perspective. Visually stunning and with leading performances, I Believe in Unicorns shows a lot of promise, and paints an intensely intimate portrait of growing up.

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