Nearly two years after its Toronto International Film Festival premiere, Brie Larson’s directorial debut “Unicorn Store” (2017) officially hit Netflix for everyone to see and enjoy. It’s a colorful debut, full of bright paint and plenty of shiny spectacle. And those sparkles aren’t just for show. At its heart, “Unicorn Store” is a flawed story with plenty of love, weirdness and honesty.
Early on in “Unicorn Store,” Samuel L. Jackson’s magical and mysterious character The Salesman tells Kit (Brie Larson) that in order for him to bring a unicorn to The Store, she needs to be “the right sort of girl.” This phrase hangs over the entire 92-minute run of “Unicorn Store,” pushing a desperate Kit to do whatever it takes to get her unicorn. The unicorn is, of course, a metaphor, but also a real, living and breathing animal.
Kit, after flunking out of art school, moves back in with her parents. She sees her childhood bedroom transformed into a home gym and finds many of her glittery rainbow decorations and stuffed animals packed away. She struggles to adapt to being an almost 30-year-old with nowhere to go. It’s a story that feels increasingly common: a protagonist nearing an age that should be full of milestones — marriage, mortgage, good job — but finding she has nothing to call her own. Enter the unicorn.
Surrounded by parents who think she’s crazy (played by the absolutely perfect duo Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford), a boss whose weird advances are practically sexual harassment and Virgil (Mamoudou Athie), a hardware store worker who she develops a strange romance with, Kit seems suffocated for most of “Unicorn Store.”
There’s certainly heartfelt moments and it’s great to see Kit own her glittery self at the film’s climax — a vacuum ad presentation in front of the company’s board where she dumps about 10 pounds of glitter all over the conference room — but Kit spends much of “Unicorn Store” looking for a way to run away from it all. She’s seemingly desperate to succeed while also longing to return to her younger days, when it was acceptable to run around in princess costumes and only consume pizza and soda.
“Unicorn Store” isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. Kit struggles with real problems, real sadness and deep loneliness that feels relatable and understandable. It’s through these struggles that Kit learns how to become an adult while still remaining a kid at heart. By the film’s ending, in which Kit meets her unicorn and gives her up to another woman, there is a sense that Kit has accepted that her childhood is over, while not giving up what makes her who she is.
It’s a weird, quirky, almost unexpected directorial debut for Larson. There’s much to praise about “Unicorn Store,” and it’s nice to feel that Larson had a vision for the story she was telling, but the film’s still flawed. “Unicorn Store” is too concise for its own good. By the ending, there’s a real feeling that there’s still more to Kit’s story. Perhaps an epilogue scene where Kit opens her own arts store or sells things on Etsy — both feel so on-brand for her — would give the story more closure. Kit’s parents also deserved a little more attention, and a wrap-up on Kit’s time as a temporary worker under her terrible boss would’ve been satisfying.
There is more to “Unicorn Store” than audiences get, and there’s probably parts of “Unicorn Store” audiences don’t understand. The film’s script lacks as much luster as Larson puts into the role. There are jokes that don’t hit, characters that don’t need to exist — like Crystal and Sabrina, the two bland company workers that gossip in the break room — and moments where “Unicorn Store” just falls flat. Sure, the subplot of Kit’s parents loving her childhood friend Kevin (Karan Soni) for having a job is funny, but it runs far too long.
The Salesman’s comment about Kit needing to be “the right kind of girl” applies to “Unicorn Store.” It needs to be the right kind of movie, which can be said for many of its parts. And sure, it has its missteps, its moments where its whimsical nature just doesn’t feel authentic, but it’s still a refreshing watch. It’s still a film that deserves love for its honesty, for its absurdity and for its creativity.