Robert Schwartzman from the ‘Rooney’ band turned director for the second time with The Unicorn, a 2018 comedy film. It talks about the situation of parents becoming more progressive regarding sex than children. What would happen if your relationship seems like a balloon that reduces in size as the air is sucked from it, as compared to your parents’?
The protagonists of The Unicorn, Nicholas Rutherford’s Cal and Lauren Lapkus’s Mal, approach that situation as more of a challenge than a hindrance. The situation would eventually turn out to be both. Mal takes her long-time fiancé Cal to her parents, Louis and Edie’s, marriage renewal function. At the event, they find that her parents occasionally have a sexual encounter or two with one more person in it for happiness. Therefore, the engaged couple takes inspiration from Edie and Louis to venture out at night in search of their figurative unicorn to satisfy their sexual fantasies.
The issue is that the engaged couple has lived in an inoffensive, stale bubble for a long time, so they forget what it is like to experience the fantasies. It is worthwhile to watch them make erotic personas for the lucky ‘unicorn’, but it can also be a rather annoying exercise.
With an excellent setup for an event that is made ridiculous due to numerous errors, the couple comes across many peculiar characters during their effort for a threesome. Those characters include Lucy Hale’s energy alchemist Jesse, Beck Bennett’s male strip club manager Tyson, and Dree Hemingway’s escort April. Jesse’s disproportionate conduct is mistakenly viewed as flirting. The couple progresses through the scenes involving those characters similar to how improvisation theatre dropouts would enter a porn movie set.
The Unicorn has more moments that work than the ones that do not work. Some of those are hilarious moments, where the performances from the actors are earnest. However, the movie becomes a mumblecore pantomime in terms of presentation. It is a shame because it had the potential to be a Gen Z’s version of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, the 1969 movie from Paul Mazursky. The 1969 film explored sex-related moral attitudes for a new generation, but this film just tries to evoke laughter with drawn-out passages.
If The Unicorn was just a farcical comedy, that would have been fine. However, this story has more potential than just an improv sketch. It has quip-heavy dialogue delivered with a cadence that causes its characters to lack the kind of depth that should have made us care about them more in the final act. Therein lies the main issue with this film.
Schwartzman is from a movie family. He is Sofia Coppola’s cousin and Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew. Schwartzman’s first movie, entitled Dreamland, got mixed reviews, but this one received better critical feedback. It made its debut at the South by Southwest film festival.
It opens promisingly, but then merely aims for low-hanging fruit, which ruined the potential to be a daring statement about modern failings of human beings to connect as well as their sensuality.
The sexual themes of the movie have an emphatic and raw edge. It is a pity that the director approaches those themes with discomfort and coyness identical to its two main characters.