SXSW Review: ‘THE UNICORN’ – a rare rom-com with a point

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

THE UNICORN

Not yet rated, 88 minutes.
Director: Robert Schwartzman
Cast: Lauren LapkusNicholas RutherfordLucy HaleBeck BennettDree HemingwayBeverly D’AngeloJohn KapelosMaya KazanDarrell Britt-Gibson and Kyle Mooney
Release date is TBA.

AUSTIN – One of the toughest things to overcome when dating is slowly uncovering the secrets in our past. Everyone has relationship baggage and things they did they aren’t proud of. I mean, isn’t it more comfortable to believe your partner is some kind of spotless saint who has never been resentful about life? As true as that may be, it’s not real life.

THE UNICORN is perhaps the biggest surprise of the South by Southwest Film Festival this year. It takes a seemingly typical romantic comedy plot and churns it into a hysterical, heartfelt story about accepting that you cannot erase someone’s past.

The film revolves around engaged couple Caleb (Nicholas Rutherford) and Malory (Lauren Lapkus). They decide to attend a weekend celebration for Malory’s parents’ 25th wedding vow renewal. Malory’s parents (John Kapelos and Beverly D’Angelo) seem to have such ideal romantic lives, as does Malory’s sister (Maya Kazan), who is about to have twins with her significant other (Darrell Britt-Gibson).

They party with their family until the comfort kicks out and go back to their hotel to get some sleep before their early morning start. As they do their nighttime routine and slip underneath the covers, they begin to question the lack of excitement in their relationship. For anyone who can relate to being a Netflix couple – lovers who choose to binge television series over having outside experiences – you will completely empathize with Caleb and Malory’s worries. So because of these lingering thoughts, they decide to hit a local bar and pretend they’re Canadians who don’t know each other to spice things up.

Engaged couple Caleb (Nicholas Rutherford) and Malory (Lauren Lapkus). They decide to attend a weekend celebration for Malory’s parents 25th wedding vow renewal. The weekend tests their relationship. Courtesy of SXSW.

But it’s at that bar they meet Jesse (Lucy Hale), an earthy woman who is all about maintaining positive energy. Both Caleb and Malory misinterpret Jesse’s welcoming gestures for sexual tension. Because of these false hopes, they arrive at the conclusion that they need to take the next big step together: have a threesome.

THE UNICORN reminded me of THE OVERNIGHT, which just so happens to star Jason Schwartzman, the brother of this film’s director, Robert. Both titles engage in the concept of stepping outside of each other’s comfort zones to take on new experiences. It’s through these experiences that you can learn more about yourself and each other, and both films prove that with flying colors.

We journey on a late-night stroll with the couple as they have encounters with all different types of people. They, of course, meet Jesse that uncovers this desire to have a threesome in the first place, but they also meet Tyson (the scene-stealing Beck Bennett from SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE). He owns a male strip club and challenges Caleb and Malory’s comfort, winning our laughter. One scene involving, you guessed it, a lap dance is comedy gold.

THE UNICORN is uncensored and hilariously unpredictable, but it also has meaning. It goes to show that it takes both parties to make a relationship work. And more than anything, it takes being able to unpack those bags to make it stronger. It’s a lovely and enlightening message to take to heart.

[Grade: A-]

THE UNICORN’s last SXSW encore screening was Wednesday, March 14 at 3:15 p.m. We will keep you posted on any announcements for its theatrical release. But you can visit sxsw.com to see the schedule for the last days of the festival.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.