18 July 2024
Man and Transwoman laugh in a car , from Unicorns

Film review – Unicorns (2024)

Everybody just wants what they can’t have.” What – or, rather, who – Asian drag queen Aysha wants is sat next to her. Both have the same feelings – longing mixed with confusion – and in Unicorns, directors Sally El Hosaini and James Krishna Floyd explore how this relationship sparks a search for reality when it comes to identity. What makes the film intriguing, however, is how it avoids the temptation to hang a label on either of the two main characters or the nature of their connection.

After an intense but casual encounter in a field, mechanic Luke (Ben Hardy) stumbles into an underground club playing Asian dance music, where he’s immediately fascinated by flirtatious dancer, Aysha (Jason Patel). The passionate kiss that follows outside makes it apparent that Aysha is not the cisgender woman Luke had assumed. Despite making a hasty exit, there’s something about the drag artist that he finds irresistible and he’s soon juggling his day to day life with driving her to “gaysian” parties, where she earns extra money. But Aysha’s life away from the nighttime superficial glitz and glamour threatens to overshadow everything, as the two make faltering steps towards each other.

Their parallel lives are smartly drawn and, on the face of it, should never overlap. Luke’s a single dad, looking after a high-spirited five year old and repairs cars in his dad’s garage. The opening moments of the film illustrate how he’d describe himself and why his reaction to that first kiss with Aysha is so instant. She, on the other hand, works during the day in a beauty store, lives in a colourful flat but, despite an outward confidence, is constantly haunted by her past in Manchester. Originally one of two sons in a traditional Muslim family, she knows that rumours are circulating and texted death threats have become the norm. Yet when she’s the victim of violence, reverting to her old life and identity is the safest choice.

The melancholy threaded through the film is especially apparent in the conversations between Aysha and Luke, but the tone never dips into melodrama. Instead it’s kept low key, giving the relationship between the two an unexpected dignity and the fleeting moments of happiness together are when the sparkle between the characters and the performances from Hardy and newcomer Patel light up the screen. Their searches for identity – both as individuals and within their personal circumstances – are portrayed with sympathy and subtlety, even though the likelihood of these proverbial star crossed lovers finding lasting happiness never looks high. And the question whether Aysha herself is a genuinely real person or, ultimately, a dream just beyond touching distance, always lingers in the background.

Stripped down, this is a traditionally structured romance, but the couple at the heart of it, their respective stories and their increasing outsider status give the story depth. Unicorns doesn’t attempt to give any answers, easy or otherwise, to their problems. It tells their story with understanding, compassion, concentrating on the love between two people who see each other for who they truly are, faults and all. It doesn’t end tidily. Of course it doesn’t. Because life isn’t like that …..

★★★★

Romance, Drama / 15 / UK, 2023 / 15 / Cinema /  5th July 2024 (UK) / Signature Entertainment  / Dir: Sally El Hosaini, James Krishna Floyd /  Ben Hardy, Jason Patel, Hannah Onslow, Nisha Nayar,

Related Post: Watch Unicorns Video Interview – Ben Hardy, Jason Patel, Sally El Hosaini, James Krishna Floyd 

3rd July 2024  –  This is a repost of our BFI Flare review / original review link


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