I Believe in Unicorns (2014)
Written and directed by Leah Meyerhoff
Produced by Heather Rae, Vinay Singh, Katie Mustard, Josh Hetzler, Hannah Beth King, Frank Hall Green, Aly Migliori, Mark G. Mathis, Allison Anders, David Kupferberg, Castille Landon, Robin Leland
Starring Natalia Dyer, Peter Vack, Julia Garner, Toni Meyerhoff
Nary a sketching, fanciful, moody, morose, bauble-garnering teen won’t relate to the troublous protagonist (Dyer) of Meyerhoff’s semi-autobiographical drama, who’s burdened daily by her care for an infirm mother (Meyerhoff), and seeks passion and flight from her onerous routine in a raucous skater and aspiring rock star (Vack) with whom she bonds forthwith. Their inevitable road trip from flat familiarity to nowhere in particular finds them initially enraptured with one another, but sours upon her realization that’s he’s violently unstable, she’s too tender and neither possess a modicum of the maturity imperative to sustain any sort of relationship. Technically, Meyerhoff’s first feature’s beyond reproach: richly photographed by one Jarin Blaschke, cut carefully for cadence by Rebecca Laks and Michael Taylor, and attractively bedight throughout with glimmering filters cleverly applied, quixotic stop-motion animation allegorically imaging the unspoken whims, frustrations, perturbation and jubilee of Dyer’s hypersensitive schoolgirl, and a production design littered with the cards, Christmas lights, figurines, doll parts, Polaroids, paintings, beads, stickers and sparklers, stuffed animals and chintz with which her imagination and interiors are so amply bedizened. Their directress exploits both Dyer’s and Vack’s mutual chemistry and basic yet potent faculties for unarticulated expression as adeptly as one may expect from a neophyte; they’re plausible enough to overcome her occasionally stiff dialogue and narration, and the range and realism of Dyer’s performance clearly indicate a player of considerable potential, yet whose reliance on skilled direction has since been evidenced by her distinctly less impressive turn as the weakest histrionic link in Stranger Things. Footage from Meyerhoff’s 16mm homemade movies effectively preface the production in a fictive context, consolidated by the presence of her disabled mother in both, underplaying her role without really acting at all. Beneath trappings of gewgaws, representational phantasmagoria, and some beginner’s missteps, her depiction of adolescence vividly kindles all its transcendent excitation, ceaseless dubiety, sudden angst punctuating every other hour’s oasis, euphoria and agonies of first coitus, that joyous abandon attending infatuation and the crushing anguish in its wake, and more individually, the sad millstone of a maturing offspring’s obligation to caretake for her incapacitated parent. More significantly, Meyerhoff never flinches from her recognition of adolescence as an ephemeron, and its fleeting innocence as a phase soluble upon contact with experience.

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