A coming-of-age story about learning about love the hard way, "I Believe in Unicorns" feels like a teen movie made for an adult audience. It reminisces on a kind of loss of innocence not really seen since the advent of the Internet. Indeed, our budding photographer heroine Davina (Natalia Dyer) documents moments with Polaroids instead of Instagrams.
The teenage Davina still plays with dolls, doodles in a scrapbook and indulges in daydreams, something writer-director Leah Meyerhoff depicts to maximum whimsy with metaphorical stop-motion animated sequences complete with the titular unicorns.
Despite early signs that the dreamy, long-haired Sterling (Peter Vack) may be a moody jerk, Davina remains smitten. She embellishes their icky first-time hookup to earn the approval of her friend Cassidy (Julia Garner). Davina soon relieves herself of her responsibilities as the sole caretaker of her disabled mother and runs off with Sterling to do fun stuff, but eventually learns that love isn't all it's cracked up to be.
In spite of its fanciful tendencies, the film nails the growing pains that result from love and loss. Davina's broken family hasn't taught her self-worth or realistic expectations of the trial and error that relationships entail. The first love grossly idealized by storybooks sets her up for a huge disappointment. Only when her rose-colored glasses come off does she realize she deserves better.
"I Believe in Unicorns."
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.
Playing: At Arena Cinema, Hollywood. Also on VOD.