“Does it read a little childish, the whole magical rainbow-ness of it all?” is what a business woman towards the end of Unicorn Store. Fully aware that this is the sort of thing that any critic could easily say about the film, director Brie Larson sets the scene in front of a 99% male boardroom, drawing easy parallels to the critics who panned the film after it’s 2017 release, which led to its eventual pickup by Netflix at the beginning of 2019 (two years!).
Synopsis: A woman named Kit receives a mysterious invitation that would fulfill her childhood dreams. (Netflix)
Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, and Bradley Whitford
Writer: Samantha McIntyre
Director: Brie Larson
Running Time: 92mins
Kit (Larson) is a classic case of a manchild. We meet her as she flunks out of art school, and then goes back to her parents couch. Kit eventually tries to fix her life, get back on track, and take a temp job at a boring office, where she gets hit on by her creepy boss Gary (Hamish Linklater). All of a sudden, she gets a fantastical invite to a unicorn store. The Salesman (Jackson) of a unicorn store tells her that she needs to take on responsibilities. It’s a classic story of a insufferable character growing up, through someway or another. Kit’s arrested development is strong, and we follow her on a rambly adventure, both a mixture of unicorns and… office sexual harassment?
There’s a tricky tonal balance in between the two major plot points in Unicorn Store, the obvious difference in between Kit’s rainbow-filled hopes and dreams, and the office-centered reality of the world. It’s a fantasy film where the actual fantasy element is only shown later in the film, oddly enough. But most of what drags the film down is its barely sketched characters and a lack of real plot progression. The film in some ways is a hangout film with a motif of self-improvement, only moved along by the rainbow-ish visuals, and a wonderful Brie Larson performance. Her slow growth in self-awareness is palpable via her performance as Kit, as her voice becomes less whiny, her actions become less juvenile, and she feels more like an adult.
At the same time, Unicorn Store’s script is confusingly caught between messages. Sure, we can indulge in cotton-candy and delight all day, but when half of the film is about growing past that, and the other half berates modern society for having no imagination, it’s hard not to feel like you have to pick a side. The film is caught down the middle in between showing a dreamer in the modern world, and the dreamer in her world. It doesn’t help the tone if Kit keeps throwing out lines like “Am I pretty enough to be sexually harassed?” It’s a situation where the real world conflict is an additionally engrossing story.
Still, Brie Larson almost makes it work. There’s a sense of energy and quirk in the filmmaking that would be among the most enjoyable at Sundance. Her attention to detail is something to behold. On top of that, her performance is truly another excellent one in a filmography of many. There’s just too many things happening, without much at its core. If anything, Unicorn Store should have been longer and more fantastical, if only to drown out the horrific real world moments, and to bulk up characters and relationships that could be wonderful.
Conversely, the film should have been far more grounded in that business word. “I’m just worried about all the rainbows, in fact, I’m realizing right now that I hate rainbows,” the business women asks when asked if she liked the aforementioned presentation. Hate is a strong word, however, a similarly feeling arose while watching.
*Unicorn Store will be available on Netflix starting Friday, April 5th*
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