Unicorn Store (2019)
Director: Brie Larson | Runtime: 1h 32mins | Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
After failing art school, Kit (Brie Larson) has to move back in with her parents and start temp work for a legal firm. She’s soon invited to ‘The Store’, a place that sells what you want and what you need.
After the success of Captain Marvel (2019) Brie Larson follows up by taking a seat in the directors chair for the short and whimsical Unicorn Store. Whimsical is an interesting way to describe her directorial debut, but Larson really shifted from the action heavy super hero Marvel universe with a indie film centred on a grown woman trying to adopt a unicorn. Being obsessed with them throughout her life, they even become the reason Kit is kicked out of a pretentious art school run by a supposedly famous name in the art world.
The term whimsical may be seen as a negative way to describe a film, potentially giving the indication that it is without depth, all style and no substance. Whilst Unicorn Store won’t leave film theorists debating for years to come it certainly taps into an interesting area, one many might have experienced, exploring the story of a woman who struggles to grow up and adapt into a maturer world than her.
Although it debuted at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival, it was only recently released on Netflix. Writer Samantha McIntyre hasn’t had too illustrious career so far, so Unicorn Store comes as a bit of a breakout for her, and features at the end in a very brief cameo. As mentioned, her writing doesn’t created the deepest, subtlest film you’ll ever see, but does bring huge amounts of charm and quirky energy that is really solidified by the strong performances all round.
Recognisable faces Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford act as Larson’s parents, running an outdoors experience for troubled kids, and try to bring that home to Kit to help her through the slump she fell in. Although they add an interesting layer of a mature adult life misunderstanding Kit and why she needs the unicorn, the real highlights are Martha MacIssac and especially Mamoudou Athie. With the former, she places a timid but friendly officer worker at the business Kit takes her temp work at. Some cracking lines really allow her to shine in a mostly brief role (‘Do you know about a place called the store?’ ‘Oh is that a cool pop up? Because I never go anywhere fun’ is a particular favourite) really epitomises the lack of creativity and enjoyable aspects of life sucked away by the more ‘real’ and ‘adult’ aspects of growing up.
Mamoudou Athie is opposite Larson, acting as a love interest of sorts. Although their relationship does revolve around those attractions, it feels more organic than a lot of romances in cinema, and by the end the connection they form feels earned and deserved, Athie showing his skills with ease, and much like MacIssac achieves a lot with a short amount of screen time.
In terms of Larson herself, the character of Kit feels like it was never written for anyone else. Perfectly casting herself, she really owns every scene she is in, reflecting the quirky, whimiscal nature of the film through Kit herself. With her direction, she certainly brings a high level of skill to a debut, although not most defined directions you will have seen. Some scenes do feel like any capable director could have lead it, and occasionally it feels like maybe another in the top position could have reigned in Larson’s personal quirks, coming across too strong from time to time, although this doesn’t reflect on the talent of the sequences that really resonant through. The opening sequence and the vaccum cleaner being decorated and following presentation are fantastic examples of the film as a whole; quirky, whimsical, and although quite fantastical are highly entertaining with a clear message.
It would feel wrong to not mention Sam Jackson in the review, as for some he would be a drawing point. Although he seems like he’s having a lot of fun, and the interactions between him and Larson are smooth with great chemistry (much like the aforementioned Captain Marvel), but really he isn’t given a huge amount to do, and unlike Athie and MacIssac doesn’t capitalise on the shorter amount of screen time. Certainly enjoyable whilst there, he definitely isn’t going to be an element you’ll be sticking with after the credits roll.
There’s a lot to like about Larson’s directorial debut, mostly that it’s just pure fun. For some, this won’t be enough and the lack of substance will leave them wanting more. But for those who are willing to buy into fairly low stakes, childhood magic and unicorns, you’ll leave with a big smile on your face debating how you could bring a bit more colour and glitter to your life.