Brie Larson’s directorial debut “Unicorn Store” is a movie destined to leave some of its audience scratching their heads. Bathed in glitter and pastels and juggling more themes than you would expect, Larson gives us a weird little concoction with a sweet, whimsical flavor that I kinda fell for.
Larson not only directs but stars as Kit, an aspiring artist who has her dreams shattered by her snobbish art professor. Dejected and cash-strapped, she moves back in with her hyper-motivated parents (really funny turns from Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford). It’s a big blow for a young woman still clinging to her childhood ideals. She finally crawls out of her melancholy, caves to her parents wishes, and joins the uninspired everyday work force.
Kit lands a job as a temp at a public relations agency, a workplace filled with ambition-quenching monotony and one creepy boss named Gary (a wonderfully absurd Hamish Linklater). Kit tries to assimilate but her rainbow colored dreams are kept alive thanks to a series of elaborate invitation cards that lead her to “The Store”. It’s ran by the truly bizarre Salesman (Samuel L. Jackson) who tells her his shop can provide whatever she needs.
The movie’s title probably gives it away, but Kit asks for a unicorn. A real one mind you although the metaphors are aplenty. The screenplay from newcomer Samantha McIntyre treats Kit with tons of sympathy and respect. She and Larson challenge us to do the same – to look at Kit through an empathetic lens. Everyone in the film wants Kit to change and be someone she isn’t. The exception is Virgil (Mamoudou Athie), a learn-on-the-fly handyman and the lone person who accepts Kit for who she is.
Larson’s direction makes for a nice behind-the-camera debut. It doesn’t showcase a ton of flair but it’s proficient, nimble, and steady. She doesn’t overreach and has a nice actor-like way of highlighting her characters. That leads to her performance which is warm, charming and utterly convincing. And fans of “Captain Marvel” will instantly recognize the chemistry between Larson and Jackson. This was wrapped up prior to her big Marvel splash, but you can already see how well the two work together. Linklater, Athie, Cusack, and Whitford are all strong in supporting roles. Also toss in a very funny Karan Soni.
“Unicorn Store” slyly straddles the line between celebrating and embracing our inner child and finding identity and fulfillment in the real world. I can see it being too quirky for some. Maybe it is lighthearted to a fault and too optimistic for our cynical current-day climate. But despite its flaws I found it to be warm, charming and packed with a ton of heart and far more laughs than I expected. Even more, it’s a really good performance from Larson and a satisfying directorial debut. I’m anxious to see what she does next.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS