Leah Meyerhoff’s I Believe in Unicorns is a majestic beauty, much like it’s central image of a unicorn; it is mythical, vulnerable, weird, beautiful and deeply human.
The film is about a teenage girl named Davina, played expertly by Natalia Dyer, who lives with her sick mother, modeled after and played by Meyerhoff’s mother with Multiple Sclerosis. Davina is damaged by her obligation to take care of the mother in a relatively dull and depressed area from Davina’s perspective. I Believe in Unicorns is not exactly an objective look at these people, but rather functions as a lens for her perspective: a light, airy, floating sense of wonder for the world, often basked in light blue.
This world is lightened by the entry of a cute skateboarder, who she photographs (stunning, I might add), named Sterling. He sees her taking photographs and skateboards up to her, suggesting that they meet the next day. He takes a brown marker and draws a map to a storefront nearby. Yeah, he’s damn charming, which is only possible because Peter Vack plays the role incredibly well. Don’t be mistaken, this is not the means to a puffy, meatless endeavor of quirky, indie fun. Davina’s sense of wonder is a response to her pain.
Davina and Sterling’s relationship or, rather, the impact of this relationship on Davina becomes the focal point of the film. You should experience the rest without foreknowledge, so I must simply allude to the brutal honesty of the events that unfold. This film takes you to Davina’s world. It’s gorgeous, both in its surface level beauty and the humanity it depicts. It feels pointless trying to explain I Believe in Unicorns; Meyerhoff is so astutely aware of Davina’s feelings and how to manifest them visually that any description feels like a foolish misstep. Using the moving image, color, sound and brilliant actors, Meyerhoff communicates exactly what she wants to. She has said that Davina is a fictionalized version of herself, which is unsurprising. A major aspect of the aesthetic is a faded look, conveying a complicated nostalgia for a time in her past and a time period (water hand guns, roller blading – this isn’t exactly 2014). I Believe in Unicorns is vulnerable, exciting, unique and delicate, crafted with extreme care and affection.
Please just do yourself a favor and watch this stunning piece of cinema.