For a directorial debut, it’s unfortunate Brie Larson didn’t pick a more stand-out script. Unicorn Store, with its poorly realized central MacGuffin, is about as twee as you can get in a didn’t-play-Sundance Sundance movie: Larson’s character Kit, a young woman who lives with her parents and is unable to progress beyond her arrested development, receives an invitation to a secret location which promises to fulfill something she’s wanted since childhood: a unicorn.
Featuring an ice cream parlor and a lavish, fantastical interior, the Unicorn Store, staffed solely by a squandered Samuel L. Jackson, gives Kit the opportunity to try and repair the things askew in her routine, mostly through little missions towards achieving stability in her life and her career. Step one is to build a stable for her future unicorn, and it’s unclear if the movie-long arc of erecting this shoddy enclosure in her parents’ backyard is a metaphor for “stability” (and if it is, this is just one of many clichés obstructing her underdeveloped character goal; if not, I’m afraid I may be giving this script far, far too much credit).
There’s a plus in the casting of Mamoudou Athie, the talented young actor who plays Virgil, Kit’s hopeful carpenter (and, if she’ll have him, shoulder to cry on). It’s a shame, then, that Kit and Virgil’s relationship ranges from unintentionally awkward to needlessly combative to completely nonsensical—sometimes all at once—before flipping back into frustratingly precious again.
One doesn’t need to be jaded to recognize the utter fluffiness of a romantic comedy festooned in glitter paint, though in a genre where everyday conventions are the mainstay, there’s something to be said for a protagonist that’s willing to throw around some confetti. At first, with home videos from Larson’s past, this energetic, rainbow-inspired aesthetic is sincere—if it wasn’t consistently suffocated by uninspired narrative anxieties about big dreams versus small cubicles.
This is a movie where her hippie-dippie parents (Bradley Whitford and Joan Cusack) run an inner peace small business called “Emotion Quest,” which sounds like a chapter title of a bargain-bin how-to guide to screenwriting. “Does this read a little childish?” one character asks in a major scene where Kit proudly displays the newfound courage to face her fears and chase her dreams. Of course it does: like student-written high school theatre, with its lack of coordination and characters that never transcend caricature, there’s an earnestness to Unicorn Store that passes as inoffensive naiveté.
Unicorn Store premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and hits Netflix on April 5, 2019.