HomeMoviesUnicorn Store Review: Brie Larson's Directorial Debut is a wonderful contradiction

Unicorn Store Review: Brie Larson’s Directorial Debut is a wonderful contradiction

Unicorn Store
Photo Credit: Netflix

The delayed release of Brie Larson’s Unicorn Store isn’t entirely unique. There are always a handful of movies that are shuttered after festival premieres, taking years to be seen by the public. Most recently, Willem Dafoe’s Passolini finally got American distribution five years after its premiere. A similarly high profile film with Oscar talent that played next to Unicorn Store at TIFF in 2017, The Current War, will see the light of day later this year.

Yet, it remains a mystery why it took nearly two years for Larson’s directorial début to find distribution. It isn’t entirely impossible they wanted to ride the coat tails of Captain Marvel — imagine that, what a luxury that winning an Oscar just months before would be less iconic than a role in a Marvel movie.

Little did anyone know how controversial a figure Larson would become because of her speaking out for a more diverse filmmaking world. I bring this up not because it’s vital to the story, but because going straight to Netflix, Unicorn Store‘s life will rely on its online presence. Less than five hours into its official streaming release, the majority of IMDb ratings were a 1 out of 10. The same trolls and algorithms that carpet bombed Captain Marvel before its release are making an entirely good and enjoyable movie look like a stain on Larson’s record.

As someone that’s followed her career since her time on the Disney channel, Larson’s talent has always been abundantly clear. She has an Oscar, so she doesn’t need me or anyone else to vouch for her on-screen talent. But little do people know she also directed a couple of short films before she became a household name, starting with Short Term 12.

I’m particularly fond of Weighting, a poetic one-take short from 2013 in the vein of Birdman that blends visual trickery and gags with a chaotic jazz score to underscore the pressures of a relationship and modern life. It’s that four-minute video that proved she knows how to tell a story visually, and she continues that same finesse with her feature début.

That’s essentially the thesis of Unicorn Store penned by Samantha McIntyre: what is our relationship with the pressures of a fast-paced society and how do we choose to handle the internal and external battle of creativity and reality? Are those mutually exclusive?

Unfortunately, its messaging is a bit muddled and is never fully cohesive, completing its adventurous thoughts with contrived conclusions after each act and only ramping up its “save the world with art” mentality. Though, by the end of everything, it’s clear that the film’s own confusion is entirely the point. It mirrors the thoughts and confusion of Kit (played by Larson), a failed art student who decides to work at a PR agency as a temp after seeing a commercial while she sits in her childhood home and is pressured by her parents (Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford).

But after a happy UPS employee (played by Ryan Hansen who should be in everything) hands Kit a colorful invitation to “The Store” run by The Salesman (Samuel L. Jackson), Kit’s world opens up again. She’s being offered a unicorn of her own if she can prove she’s capable of caring for it. So, she has to abandon her newfound sensibility and return to that childlike state that made her believe in herself and the future again…the same adventurousness that sent her packing before.

The whole process is a wonderful contradiction, pitting its wondrous palette against a cookie-cutter formula to state the case that there is a balance between responsibility and dreams. Though a lot of its success falls more on the shoulders of its A-list cast. Larson essentially plays herself but handles Kit’s arc in charming fashion against Mamaoudou Athie as her potential love interest. Whitford and Cusack also help incite that stream of emotions. And when’s the last time Jackson has phoned in a performance? Never. In a role as a socially awkward, creatively stunted boss, Hamish Linklater provides a great supporting performance that walks the line between indictment and sympathy for male authority.

Unicorn Store is not revolutionary on a large scale, just as Kit isn’t, but on its own, it has a world of ideas to share. It won’t win over anyone that claims Larson has destroyed the MCU, as its politics are quite clear, but it’s charming and entertaining enough to forgive its small flaws. Larson has quite the busy schedule ahead of her with more Marvel projects, but her next time behind the camera can’t come soon enough.

Brie Larson’s Unicorn Store is now streaming on Netflix.



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