(The 2023 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) ran September 7-17 and HtN has tons of coverage! Check out Matt Delman’s movie review of Unicorns. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)
Unicorns is a queer romance starring Ben Hardy (Bohemian Rhapsody) and newcomer Jason Patel, whose chemistry makes the movie. While there is no singular auteur, the co-directors Sally El Hosaini and James Krishna Floyd do a fine job in focusing on the central relationship. Floyd has acted in Hosaini’s previous films, so it’s clear this was a team effort. A little bit of Joyland mixed with Scrapper, the British ‘gaysian’ scene and parenting, meld into a potent mixture of drama and sexual tension.
The first dance sequence is stunningly shot, opening the film with kinetic visuals that set the scene and introduce Aysha to the audience. Patel plays Aysha with a confident allure that could intrigue any creature with a pulse. Luckily for Aysha, she attracts Ben Hardy, playing an auto mechanic named Luke who thinks he’s a cis-het male, only to discover a spark when kissing Aysha in drag. They make out after a show but unfortunately Luke is confused about who exactly he’s kissing. They have a big fight about it, but eventually Aysha charms Luke enough to convince him to be her driver (paid of course). This is only the start of a tortuous path laid out for our characters, consisting of jealous rivals, sus ex-wives, and literal battery acid.
Overall the style of the film is pretty straightforward. The technical merits of the cinematography by David Raedeker (The Souvenir) are sufficient for the story being told, but don’t push the boundaries in terms of bravura shots. The best style choice was using a cover of the song ‘I Follow Rivers’ by Lykke Li to punctuate the emotions (after some searching I might have found the version by Marika Hackman). It fits so perfectly with the mood of the story, but even that song choice was taken from Blue Is The Warmest Color, one of the staple queer romance films.
Despite the lack of cinematic innovation, the acting and chemistry between the leads makes Unicorns soar. The film also finds its strength in Aysha’s cultural identity. Though her parents are unaccepting of her lifestyle, they are still depicted as generous loving people. The cross-cultural aspect of the romance takes a backseat to Luke realizing he’s on the queer spectrum, and that maybe he loves Aysha. However, the moments where the South Asian culture shines through are some of the best. For the subject matter, Unicorns is actually quite mainstream and commercial, and should find audiences across the world who will fall in love with Aysha and Luke, and Patel and Hardy.
– Matthew Delman (@ItsTheRealDel)
2023 Toronto Film Festival; ally El Hosaini, James Krishna Floyd ; Unicorns movie review