As children we dream of worlds of fantasy and the possibilities that await us in our later years. Unfortunately, life never really pans out the way we hope it will in the end, right? This sad dose of reality has become all too common for the current generation of adults, my generation called Millennials, as we enter our late 20s and early 30s. It’s also the inspiration for a new Netflix original that serves as the directorial debut of Captain Marvel herself Brie Larson called “Unicorn Store”. Mixing elements of fantasy and comedy, “Unicorn Store” attempts to capture the fine line between accepting adulthood and holding on to the fantasy and whimsy that made our youth so memorable. Combine this relatable concept with the team of Larson and co-star Samuel L. Jackson and this was a feature I couldn’t help but check out for myself. So, as I tend to do with movies I see, I decided to share my take with you, my fine readers. Here is my review of “Unicorn Store”.
“Unicorn Store” focuses on Kit (Brie Larson) a failed artist who moves back with her parents (Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford) and experiences insecurities about her position in life and her inability to adapt to adulthood. Kit decides to take a job at a temp agency where she catches the attention of her eccentric and creepy boss Gary (Hamish Linklater) who offers her the opportunity to design the ad campaign for a new line of vacuum cleaners providing Kit with an opportunity to practice her art again. Eventually Kit receives an invitation to a place called “The Store” operated by the mysterious Salesman (Samuel L. Jackson) who offers Kit the chance to fulfill her childhood dream of owning a live unicorn but only if she can prove she is able to care for the creature through a series of tests. These tests coincide with life lessons as Kit bonds with a local handyman named Virgil (Mamoudou Athie) to create a home for the creature and opens up to her parents to show her capacity for compassion. As Kit becomes more and more obsessed with owning the unicorn she must learn to balance her fantasy with her reality or suffer dire consequences that could ruin both.
So “Unicorn Store” is…an eccentric film to say the least just like its main character funny enough. As the directorial debut of Brie Larson, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the film on the surface before I watched it. All I knew was the stars and the general idea of the story, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Surprisingly it’s a product with some neat visual style and personality that seems to be meant to emulate how main character Kit sees the world. There’s a certain awkward nature to almost everything from the script to the shooting style and even small details like the television commercials or work environments which all seems meant to mirror the main characters disconnect with the world around her. Something always seems off, yet it also feels very grounded. I don’t know if this was on purpose or just happened to work out that way, but “Unicorn Store” seems to be trying, quite successfully, to emulate the chaotic crossroad that its central character is exploring throughout the story. The longer the film progresses the more normal things feel which also emulates Kit’s evolution as she finds her footing in a world where she feels like she doesn’t quite belong. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I kind of liked the odd presentation. It kept me invested and gave the film its own unique identity.
But beyond the presentation are the core themes that are explored in this 90-minute exploration of a struggle with personal identity which, to me, are the real reasons to watch “Unicorn Store”. The main character, Kit, is a failed artist dealing with losing touch with her dreams and fantasies. She doesn’t want to conform to the expectations of being an adult like working a dead end job just to be paid or letting go of childish dreams and fantasies to be more “mature”. “Unicorn Store” serves as a tribute to my generation, Millennials, and how we have grown into adulthood in our time. I mean I still hold on to the nostalgia of fantasies like wanting to be a Power Ranger or meeting a Pokémon in real life. For Kit it’s owning and unicorn, a dream that helped her through her childhood and awkward relationship with her parents, that serves as her nostalgic connection to her youth. Her obsession with the animal influenced her artistic passion and all she wanted was to grow up and have that creativity appreciated, but no one ever seems to “get her”. So along comes the opportunity to live out that fantasy she always wanted, that impossible dream she had as a child, as well as a chance to explore her art in the professional world but compromise her vision. Both of these situations force her to find a middle ground where she can feel accepted in the world while also being the person she wants to be…that fine mix of fantasy and reality that allows you to enjoy life without taking it too seriously and yet still be a productive contributor to society. It’s a neat, touching, and often hilariously strange dedication to an identity crossroads similar to a mid-life crisis and as a Millenial I can say it serves as a fitting interpretation of what it has been like to mature in the chaos and of the 2000s and 2010s with often judgemental older generations hanging above you.
However, the film doesn’t just stop with exploring an identity crisis, it also mixes in some appropriate social themes as well especially when it comes to the perception of women. That shouldn’t be a shock especially with Brie Larson behind and in front of the camera seeing as she has been an outspoken figure for diversity in film. While she didn’t write it, Samantha McIntyre did meaning “Unicorn Store” was built from the ground up by women to be somewhat of a feminist product. What’s interesting is this movie was filmed in 2016, before the Harvey Weinstein scandal spawned the #MeToo movement meaning that “Unicorn Store”, while relevant today, was ahead of its time when it premiered at TIFF in September of 2017. A running theme in Kit’s work life is her odd relationship with her boss who makes clear, inappropriate advances towards her throughout the film. Kit’s coworkers even mention the sexual tension and how it impacts how women move up in the company, a clear reference to the sexualization of women in the workplace. Sexism is also presented later when Kit finally unveils her unique marketing campaign for the vacuum to compete against a campaign dependent more on models. Admittedly the feminism and sexism themes can come off as a bit heavy-handed and pretentious, but like most of the film these concepts are presented with a delightful awkwardness that helps make “Unicorn Store” a fun comedy with some serious social credibility.
One thing I will say as a negative is that “Unicorn Store” has a pacing and editing problem. I will admit, even for 90 minutes, the film did feel a bit stretched out to fill its time often pausing the action to focus maybe a little too long on the awkwardness of one scene or another. It also feels like it jumps from themes to theme and scene to scene a bit unevenly. One moment we’re focusing on Kit’s boss’ sexism, the next we’re focusing on her relationship with her parents, and then we’re focusing on a budding romance, and then back to the boss again. They all play into the major themes of the film and Kit’s evolution, but never really blend which can make “Unicorn Store” feel a tad disorganized and disjointed. I assume this was part of presenting the chaos of Kit’s life because, as I said, this film feels like one big attempt as personifying her journey to balance fantasy and reality, but as stylish as the film is the flow of the plot is where it feels less satisfying and maybe too chaotic for my taste. I definitely enjoyed the experience, but it was a flawed experience, nonetheless.
I do want to compliment the cast on providing some fun characters and personalities to enjoy. Larson’s directorial debut is an impressive one and her performance in front of the camera shows an understanding of her character’s difficult journey to self-acceptance and finding an identity all her own. But her supporting cast is just as quirky and fun. Samuel L. Jackson brings his typical comedic flair to the table as The Salesman while Bradley Whitford and Joan Cusack are hilariously bland and out of touch parents to Kit who seem to have a hard time relating to their daughter in more ways than one. Mamoudou Athie impresses the most as a relatively new name trying to make his mark on cinema. He plays Virgil, a handyman who grows close to Kit, and acts as a straight man of sorts, a fellow Millennial who understands Kit’s struggles even if he seems to have found his place and doesn’t appear to find stress in relating to the world around him. He serves as a fun comparative character to Kit, someone who has accepted adulthood but needs to get back in touch with the fantasy part of life, and plays a significant role in her journey while also opening up to new possibilities himself. I found him to be a fine example of a different kind of Millennial often overlooked thanks to stereotypes and social expectations.
I very much enjoyed what “Unicorn Store” had to offer, even if it had some minor flaws that kept it from being a perfect viewing experience. It’s slightly disorganized and the transitions from scene to scene and between different themes aren’t all that smooth, but the visual presentation and personality of the film are fun and unique capturing the awkward nature of the personal journey we see unfold while the performers do their best to offer us charming, relatable and memorable characters along the way. Brie Larson proves to be not just a capable performer, but also a capable filmmaker who shows great potential with her handling of tough, complex social themes in this fantasy comedy. “Unicorn Store” manages to touch on some very personal revelations as well as some largely relevant social issues effectively and provides an engaging, unique kind of story that successfully attempts to speak to the inner child and awkward adult within us all. It’s funny, charming and definitely worth the time.