I Believe in Unicorns


This is what every Disney princess longs for.

This is what every Disney princess longs for.

(2014) Drama (Animals on Parade) Natalia Dyer, Peter Vack, Julia Garner, Amy Seimetz, Toni Meyerhoff, Justin Hall, Sam O’Gotti, Johnny Sequoyah, Eric A. H. Watson. Directed by Leah Meyerhoff

Florida Film Festival 2014

I am not a teenage girl. I have never been a teenage girl. I will never be a teenage girl. On the surface, I’m exactly the wrong guy to review this movie. However, I do have the benefit of having a wife who was once a teenage girl and her insights have been very helpful in writing this.

Davina (Dyer) is not your typical teenage girl – if there is such a thing. Her mom (T. Meyerhoff) is confined to a wheelchair. She’d been diagnosed with a debilitating disease and with her marriage on the rocks, she hoped a baby might make her husband stay. It didn’t.

So Davina is her mom’s caregiver on top of having to deal with normal teenage stuff – boy craziness, needing to find herself in a world that doesn’t necessarily want you to do anything more than conform, the fear that nobody will find you attractive, the fear that somebody will. On top of that she cooks and cleans and takes care of her mom’s needs. To escape her life, she has an active imagination in which unicorns exist and do battle with monsters, but she needs more than a fantasy life. Something has to give.

In a local park, Davina observes a skater boy named Sterling (Vack). He’s really cute. A hunk, even. She envies his free spirit. He admires her beauty. She’s a virgin but doesn’t necessarily want to stay that way. A tipping point is reached. She and Sterling run away, destination anywhere but there.

Now, I will be the first to tell you that in many ways the female teen audience has been underserved. Hollywood seems content to give them Twilight clones and while that might be plentiful box office, it doesn’t really give them any insight into themselves, into the things they are going through. You know, life. Sure there are occasional movies with bitchy cheerleader cliques and high school angst but those movies have a tendency to lack any sort of reality, or even empathy.

So you’d think I’d be breaking out the champagne and party hats for a movie like this and to an extent, but that isn’t the case. I’d really, really like to, because I think the movie can be valuable to parents and their daughters, but I have a few issues with it. I will be the first to tell you that some of them might be a little unfair.

Seeing as many films as I do, you get a sense of some of the cliches that independent films are rife with. One of them is the confusion between child-like and childish. Now your definitions may vary but I define the former as possession of the wonder that a child experiences and the latter as doing whatever occurs to you without thought of consequence. While I get that the characters here are little more than children, their behavior is completely childish. It can get grating, particularly when they get all indie-cute and start running around fields like maniacs, laughing and acting childish. I wouldn’t mind so much if I hadn’t seen the same kind of scene in dozens of indie films in the past couple of years alone. I found these scenes distracting and annoying and veteran filmgoers probably will too.

I do think that the unicorn sequences which are mainly stop-motion animation are clever and imaginative and they are likely some of the most memorable things about the film. Vack plays Sterling a little bit too much with dude-ness which may irritate anybody outside the California state lines, but Dyer does a bang-up job as Davina and even though she too got on my nerves with her actions sometimes, so would any teenager I hung out with for more than an hour.

So it will come as no shock to you, dear reader, that my wife loved this movie much more than I did. I fully intended to give this a much more scathing review but she prevailed upon me with some fairly logical points and said in her gentle but firm way that just because I’m not the audience this film is meant for doesn’t mean it isn’t a valid experience for someone else. Fair enough, but that then leads to the conclusion that this movie isn’t for everybody and I honestly think it could have been. I’m not saying have the young kids act like responsible adults – that wouldn’t be realistic – but make them less cliche indie film characters. Then maybe it becomes less of a film for a certain age and gender bracket but one we can all share – and perhaps learn from. Even so, this should be mandatory viewing for teenage girls and those who love them.

REASONS TO GO: Teen girls will find this compelling. Some interesting images. Unicorn animations are fun.

REASONS TO STAY: Relies on indie sass. The immaturity of the leads may be grating on some. More childish than child-like.

FAMILY VALUES:  Occasional swearing, teen drinking and partying as well as some frank teen sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Toni Meyerhoff, who plays Davina’s mother, is actually the director’s mother and was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis shortly before her birth. She has been in a wheelchair ever since and the director’s experiences growing up as her mother’s caretaker was the inspiration for this film.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/29/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Thirteen

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Yellow

Griff the Invisible


Even a superhero needs an occasional break.

Even a superhero needs an occasional break.

(2010) Comedy (Indomina) Ryan Kwanten, Maeve Darmody, Patrick Brammall, Toby Schmitz, Marshall Napier, Heather Mitchell, David Webb, Anthony Phelan, Kelly Paterniti, Kate Mulvany, Angela Bauer, Patricia Rogan, Leon Dobrinski, Joe June, Paul Mawhinney, Kyle Beattie, Ben Borgia, Luke Hobbins, May Lloyd, Ray Carter, Sarah Becker. Directed by Leon Ford

What is real and what is in our imagination is simply a matter of our own personal perceptions. For some of us, the line between the two is thinner than others; that fine line and the ability to recognize where it is can be the difference between genius and madness.

Griff (Kwanten) is a cubicle cowboy in Australia; a sad sack nobody who is constantly bullied by Tony (Schmitz). Griff longs to be a caped crusader, a crime fighting superhero who dispenses justice along with an occasional bon mot. His brother Tim (Brammall) is very worried about Griff who seems to be losing his grip on reality. Tim’s girlfriend Melody (Darmody) on the other hand thinks Griff is more than all right; in fact, she thinks she has the potential ability to walk through walls. When Tim receives a super suit in a mysterious package that allows him to turn invisible, the evildoers of Sydney need to be on their toes!

With a zealous policeman (Phelan) on his tail, Griff seems to be drifting further and further away from reality. He is caught on surveillance video sneaking around his office in his supposedly invisible super suit and as a result loses his job. This turns into a wake-up call for Griff who at last seems to be finally turning his back on his delusions and getting back in touch with reality, but this might cost him his relationship with Melody whom Griff has fallen in love with and whose affections are definitely returned. Is the new, more responsible Griff the same person she fell in love with? Or is that just an illusion as well?

There has been a rash of “ordinary superhero” movies perhaps inspired partially by the success of the Batman movies but certainly by such movies as Kick-Ass and Defendor as well. It examines our own needs to be important, respected and in control but also our fascination with superheroes and what they represent in our society.

Kwanten, best known for his work in the HBO hit series True Blood shows promise that he could go the next step into cinematic leading man territory. He is appealing in both his sad sack Griff persona as well as his heroic crime fighter role as well. With the success of DC and Marvel Comics, it stands to reason that more and newer superhero roles are coming down the pike and it wouldn’t surprise me if Kwanten doesn’t get at least considered for some of them.

His chemistry with Darmody is also strong. She’s less known here in the States having made more of an impression on Aussie TV roles but she definitely has some appeal and could very well one day get the kind of success as her fellow Aussies Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts currently enjoy.

The problem is that Griff and Melody are both a little bit too out to left field. I kind of get the director’s stance that when we lose our imagination we lose something of our soul, but the way that Griff and Melody both behave I can’t see them surviving in the real world without someone having them both committed to a care facility for their own protection. Certainly the actions they take in the movie put them both in mortal danger which of course works in the movies but I couldn’t help but wonder “Isn’t there someone keeping an eye on these two people?” You still end up liking them but you fear for not only their sanity but for their well-being as well.

WHY RENT THIS: Charming. Kwanten and Darmody are both appealing leads.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Griff and Melody are maybe too out there to be believable. Doesn’t hold up well with other movies with a similar theme.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of bad language and a little bit of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was inspired by writer/director Ford observing a small child playing while sitting in a cafe one day.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a director’s video log in which first-time director Ford talks about some of the pitfalls of being a rookie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Super

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Change of Plans