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Review: Unicorn Store Is a Jejune Celebration of Not Having to Grow Up

Brie Larson’s directorial debut is nothing so much as a series of quirks.

Unicorn Store
Photo: Netflix

Brie Larson’s directorial debut, Unicorn Store, is nothing so much as a series of quirks. In the film, Larson plays Kit, an immature art school dropout with an affinity for unicorns who’s moved back into to her parents’ house. After trying to get the ball rolling on an independent existence by acquiring a temp job at a PR firm, Kit makes the magical acquaintance of the mysterious Salesman (Samuel L. Jackson), who promises that, if she can prove to him that she has what it takes to care for a unicorn, he can get her one.

In portraying how Kit shoulders her adult responsibilities, the film attempts to give a realistic sense of how an unrealistic childhood fantasy can be sustained. But the film is much more interested in emphasizing the comedic whimsy of Kit’s misadventures than detailing the real-world problems she faces that will help her to mature. In this regard, Unicorn Store inadvertently becomes a celebration of its central character’s infantilism.

There’s a tonal imbalance to the way Larson depicts the obstacles Kit faces. Some of the narrative’s darker elements, such as sexual harassment at Kit’s PR firm, are treated with the same fanciful lightheartedness that marks Kit’s process of preparing for her prospective unicorn. Larson frames these harsh realities not as learning experiences, but as offhand jokes that Kit ultimately shrugs off due to her devil-may-care attitude. The film even includes a compelling subplot of Kit working on an advertising campaign that perpetuates moldy female stereotypes, but any potential this creates for Kit’s maturation is lost amid the spectacle of showing how she retains a sense of childlike wonder in a straight-laced, adult world.

Kit is characterized by a center-of-the-universe mindset that the film is largely unwilling to confront. In fact, it’s as if her parents (Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford) exist only to enable her behavior, a trait consistent with their depiction as hapless, uncool geezers. Which is why it feels so baffling when, in an uncharacteristically selfless act, Kit moves on from the idea of owning a unicorn by allowing someone else to have the one promised to her. And because of this one sacrifice, Unicorn Store believes that Kit is cured of her childishness.

But the effect of this presumably grown-up act is curbed by the fact that Kit’s friend, Virgil (Mamoudou Athie), has turned what was to be the unicorn stable in Kit’s backyard into what’s essentially a shrine to his friend. Packed to the gills with her childhood artworks, the stable is intended as a cute reminder to Kit that she can still hang onto her inner child, though mostly it scans as a creepy effigy to the crippling effects of Peter Pan syndrome.

Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Joan Cusack, Bradley Whitford, Mamoudou Athie, Hamish Linklater, Martha McIsaac, Karan Soni Director: Brie Larson Screenwriter: Samantha McIntyre Distributor: Netflix Running Time: 92 min Rating: NR Year: 2017

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