The whole experience feels lived-in and authentic enough that it probably doesn't matter that I walked away admiring the movie more than I enjoyed it. Of course, I'm not necessarily the target audience for Unicorns, which flits between the viewpoint of young Davina and that of Meyerhoff, through her directorial perspective, looking back on those experiences, or similar ones. On the other hand, it might also be that Davina's story is high on accuracy but low on insight, offering up the fairly familiar story of an angry older boy whose own emotional immaturity ultimately collides with that of a younger girl's.
Davina and Sterling meet at a skate park, where he catches her taking Polaroid photographs of him. Although Davina's friend Cassidy (Julia Garner) seems to sense that Sterling isn't as cool as Davina thinks he is, Davina follows Sterling around anyway. He invites her to a punk rock club, where Davina's school clothes and pink backpack look out of place surrounded by mohawks, leather, and walls so plastered with graffiti and stickers that the surface is hardly visible. Although the desire to appear more grown-up than you are is probably a universal teenage experience, Meyerhoff struggles to convey that nervous energy, leaning more toward an objective viewpoint that will speak more to older viewers who can more clearly see that Davina's sensitive, quiet side and Sterling's outlet for his own frustrations are probably fundamentally incompatible.
Frustrated with their dead-end town, Davina and Sterling run away together, hitting the road together on a whim. As they get farther from home, with only each other to keep themselves company, the cracks that were always present in Sterling's veneer start to grow bigger. When Davina tries to talk to him about personal issues, he grows moody and irritable, constantly undermining and hurting her with casual cruelty. Although Dyer plays this with honesty and heartfelt sadness, there is an inevitability to it that all stories like this one are forced to reckon with. To present Sterling as flawless until he isn't would be a cheat, not to mention impossible given he is clearly older and theoretically wiser than Davina. On the other hand, Meyerhoff's objectivity about him makes it too easy to wish that Davina would pick up on his shortcomings sooner.
As the film continues, it seems plausible that Meyerhoff is choosing not to tell a more specific story, one that would root the viewer firmly in Davina's perspective, because doing otherwise runs the risk of muting the movie's universal qualities. Davina and Sterling's road trip is intercut with sequences depicting a majestic unicorn that wanders into a forest to fight a deadly dragon. The metaphor of these sequences, along with the metaphor of the title itself, appear to call out to everyone who hoped to live a fantasy rather than face the struggles of reality. Yet, the strongest connection a filmmaker can make with an audience comes through in the specific, and Davina and Sterling's fleeting romance doesn't have enough instances of it to make it engaging on a deeper level. There will be those who find enough specificity in the film to connect with it, and Meyerhoff's film is certainly representative of a strong vision. That said, it comes off more thoughtful than moving, more retrospective than introspective, like looking at a scrapbook that doesn't belong to you or anyone you knew.
The Video and Audio
The last entry on the menu, "Twitch" (10:03), is not another vignette, but a short film, also by Meyerhoff. It follows a young woman (Emma Galvin), struggling with anxiety about her own future based on the condition of her disabled mother. Some of the ideas used in I Believe in Unicorns appear here as well, including Toni Meyerhoff as the protagonist's mother, and the preservation of foods with Saran Wrap, although "Twitch" isn't as pushed, stylistically.
An original theatrical trailer for I Believe in Unicorns is also included.