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


Preston Barta // Features Editor


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 to see the schedule for the last days of the festival.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.