Unicorn Store Review
Unicorn Store (2017) | Dir. Brie Larson | Cast: Bradley Whitford, Brie Larson, Joan Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson | Writer: Samantha McIntyre
In Brie Larson’s directorial debut, Larson plays out-of-work artist Kit, a young woman who is forced to move back in with her parents when her dream of making it as an artist hasn't materialised. Her world of glitter, colour and rainbows is punctured by a corporate wake-up call when Kit takes on a job as a temp, only to discover that her true calling might be just around the corner at mysteriously named ‘The Store’. Also starring Samuel L. Jackson, Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford, Larson’s first feature shows blossoming potential for the actress turned director.
As Kit ventures deeper into the world of creepy bosses and power-point presentations, she is invited to prepare for the arrival of a unicorn into her life. The Salesman (Jackson) prescribes Kit a list of things she needs to accomplish before the unicorn can come and live with her - financial stability, a loving and welcoming home and someone who can provide love. Whilst the ending keeps things deliciously vague, Unicorn Store’s core themes deal with the idea of failure and rejection, depression and learning to be the kind of adult you want to be versus the one you feel like you ought to be.
Unicorn Store spends time highlighting the absurdities and hypocrisies of the corporate world - from sleazy VP Garry to the constant conversations about diets, McIntyre’s screenplay is darkly funny and honest in these moments. The film hits it stride as it unmasks Larson’s colleague Sabrina’s (Martha MacIsaac) fears about not staying late enough or not ever doing anything fun. Equally, Kit’s bemusement at the photocopier and her initial conversation with Garry is one of the films most comedic exchanges. It reveals something deeper about Kit - as childish and immature as she seems, she understands more about the illusion of the adult world than any of the ‘real’ adults seem to. A board-meeting presentation regarding vacuum cleaner might just cinch the title of best scene in Unicorn Store - not only is it hysterically funny, but Kit's comments about vacuuming the soul are far more emotive than any vacuum commercial that has gone before.
Larson’s role as Kit may not be as meaty as Ma in Room, nor as action-packed as the recent Captain Marvel, but Kit is a complex character nonetheless. It's a shame that Larson falls just short of giving a nuanced portrayal of Kit’s desire to be a grown up, a desire that is thwarted by child-like desires. It’s tricky to understand Kit’s motivations at some points within the film - the belief in unicorns seems to take her out of the realistic realm, making it harder to identify with her. There’s also a cutesy love story which, although sweet, seems to take away from the narrative of Kit discovering who she is and who she wants to be.
Cusack and Whitford are both excellent as Kit’s long suffering parents and co-counsellors at the local summer camp. If anything, more of their awkward quips and cajoling of Kit would have been welcomed within the film. Equally, Jackson is excellent in his role as The Salesman - larger than life, but not a caricature.
As mentioned before, screenwriter McIntyre keeps Unicorn Store in a perpetual limbo as to whether or not all of these events are occurring inside of Kit’s head or not. This works entirely in the films favour - Unicorn Store is not a film which needs to wrap every little detail up. Keeping the mystery is inline with the film’s message of wonder and innocence - adulthood doesn’t have to be black and white, there is room for all shades of colour (and glitter).
It may not be a wholly original concept, we have seen the delayed adulthood story before, Unicorn Store does put a new spin on a classic narrative. The film doesn’t dazzle in quite the way the store itself (or The Salesman’s bling) does, yet it’s a solid effort for a first feature.