Young love is typically treated one of two ways in feature films made by adults: either as gauzy, treacly fairy tales of first kisses and two-straw milkshakes or as raunchy comedies where losing one's virginity is a requirement for high school graduation -- and in most cases, the protagonist is male.
That's what makes I Believe In Unicorns such a refreshing change of pace.
Peter Vack and Natalia Dyer in I Believe in Unicorns / Courtesy of the Filmmakers
In Leah Meyerhoff's feature debut, which premiered in the narrative competition this month at the South By Southwest Film Festival, newcomer Natalia Dyer plays Davina, a 16-year-old small-town girl who feels trapped as the primary caregiver for her disabled mother. Her only outlet is a rich and whimsical fantasy life (yes, it involves unicorns) -- that is, until she meets Sterling (Peter Vack), a charismatic older boy who offers Davina adventure, romance and a perceived way out. Best of all? She doesn't have to take care of him, at least not at first. Once they effectively run away together, however, his own dysfunctional past comes into play, and Davina must figure out how to improve her reality all on her own.
In the same way it's often said that no one tells the truth about childbirth, most coming-of-age films shy away from showing the often unpleasant realities of sexual awakening -- in truth, sexual acts can be messy, complicated and painful, both physically and emotionally. Unicorns tackles the bewilderment head-on, which makes it a must-see for teenage girls contemplating their sexual future. The film will also cause us women of all ages to remember those 'bad boys' in our pasts -- the ones for whom we always made excuses, no matter how badly they treated us in public. (We just knew they had hearts of gold.)
Dyer (who was actually 16 when she filmed the movie -- another refreshing touch) and Vack are dynamite young actors on the verge of major career breakthroughs. She will soon appear as the daughter of Kyra Sedgwick and Tim Daly in the sci-fi thriller After Darkness, and he stars in the SXSW Grand Jury winner Fort Tilden and is one of the leads in the new Amazon drama "Mozart in the Jungle." We caught up with the pair in Austin on the day after the film's premiere.