By Frank Scheck
Prior to seeing Robert Schwartzman's raunchy romantic comedy, I didn't know that the term "unicorn" refers to a third party who would like to have sex with a couple (in my defense, I don't get out much). The desire for such an arrangement provides the workable, if thin, premise for this sketch-like effort starring Lauren Lapkus and Nick Rutherford as a 30-something couple who attempt to put the sexual spark back into their relationship by finding a willing partner. That they have endless difficulties doing so provides The Unicorn with some mildly amusing moments.
The central characters, Malory (Lauren Lapkus) and Caleb (Nick Rutherford, who also co-scripted), have been engaged for four years. Not that Caleb isn't something of a romantic, as evidenced by an early scene in which he re-proposes using his recently removed wisdom tooth as a makeshift ring.
Their inability to make a commitment stands in marked contrast to Malory's parents (Beverly D'Angelo, John Kapelos), whom they're visiting in Palm Springs to see them renew their wedding vows for the 25th year in a row. During the weekend, Malory and Caleb are discomfited to discover that one of the reasons for her parents' successful marriage is their occasional indulgence in a threesome.
So the couple decide to do a little sexual experimentation of their own. At a bar they happen to meet Jesse (Lucy Hale, Pretty Little Liars), a sexy, New Age flower child who invites them back to her apartment. Jesse compliments the nervous visitors on their "sensual energy," gushing, "It's practically oozing out of the two of you!" Taking the hint, Caleb takes the opportunity for some personal hygiene when Jesse leaves the room briefly.
"You've never washed your balls for me!" Malory complains.
The encounter doesn't go quite as expected, and neither do the couple's subsequent attempts involving a bisexual strip-club owner (Beck Bennett of Saturday Night Live, fully deploying his estimable comic chops in one of the film's funniest scenes) and a gorgeous "massage therapist" (an appealing Dree Hemingway) who proves the most level-headed character onscreen.
Director Schwartzman (brother of Jason, and son of Talia Shire), who also came up with the story, doesn't provide much stylistic flourish to the proceedings. But the screenplay, co-written by Rutherford, Kirk C. Johnson and Will Elliott, has more than its share of funny lines, expertly delivered by the first-rate cast. Lapkus (HBO's Crashing and Holmes & Watson, but don't hold the latter against her) and Rutherford (Brigsby Bear) display terrific comic chemistry together, being fully believable as a longtime couple and finding laughs with the subtlest of inflections and deadpan line deliveries. They exploit their characters' neuroses and insecurities to both amusing and occasionally poignant effect, often managing to transcend the material's more familiar aspects.
Although its plethora of painfully awkward comic moments will produce shudders of recognition for anyone who's been in a long-term relationship, its sweetly sentimental ending makes The Unicorn a perfectly acceptable date movie.