It’s really not clear why Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson would want to cash-in her awards clout on a hopelessly muddled slog like Unicorn Store. Filmed ages ago, the film has been sitting on a shelf since at least 2017, only finally being released now, presumably, to capitalize on Captain Marvel’s billion dollar success. Larson must have seen something in the material, at least at some point, as she directed, produced, and starred in the film — but the finished product suggests less an actual film and more a sentient, Lisa Frank trapper keeper adorned with rainbow stickers and lowercase ‘i’s dotted with little hearts. One is tempted to accuse the film of faux naivety, but whatever its myriad flaws, Unicorn Store appears, at least, to be sincere. Larson’s Kit begins the film getting kicked out of art school, her flamboyantly colorful canvases not sitting well with her professor. Kit gives-up on her artistic dreams and gets a temp job at an advertising agency — but then, she receives a mysterious invitation to “The Store,” a place that only sells you “what you need,” and that’s only staffed by “The Salesman” (Samuel L. Jackson, doing an angry Willy Wonka riff). The Salesman informs Kit that, if she can prove that she’s ready for it, he is prepared to give her a real-life unicorn. What follows, then, is a kind of distaff hero’s journey: Kit learns some life lessons and grows as a person and other nonsense. It’s all a metaphorical jumble, a ramshackle, low-budget Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, minus the wonder.
Larson relegates the colorful and magical to some glitter and confetti and, as director, she puts herself and the other actors smack dab in the middle of the shot, repeatedly. Unicorn Store is inexplicably shot in scope, and this leaves all sorts of empty space within the frame.
Disappointingly, this isn’t even a so-bad-it’s-good or a Holy shit, you have to see it to believe it! kind of movie. It’s simply mediocre, with nothing particularly brazen or outlandish or even that absurd happening. To wit, Kit’s grand artistic transgression, the thing that ostracizes her from higher education, is literally her just coloring outside the lines. Sure, there’s an actual unicorn at the end of the movie (ugh, spoiler alert I guess), but this just makes the central metaphor ploddingly literal. The vision here is so small, so hermetic that the film just feels empty and flat. Larson relegates the colorful and magical to some glitter and confetti and, as director, she puts herself and the other actors smack dab in the middle of the shot, repeatedly. Unicorn Store is inexplicably shot in scope, and this leaves all sorts of empty space within the frame. Larson does find a decent rhythm for the more comedic scenes, cutting to amusing reaction shots and holding things a beat or two for a punchline. But this is pretty standard director stuff, and like everything else in the movie, it’s all based on poses and attitudes: no one acts, or even really talks like an actual human being. These are second- and third-hand tropes, empty signifiers. Wes Anderson and Michel Gondry have their detractors, and can err on the side of mannered, but they both have a knack for finding humanity in their wild conceits, some kind of longing or melancholy that at least attempts to get at something… true. Unicorn Store is a clichéd self-help slogan, and it will now find itself relegated to the gaping black maw of the Netflix content void. Good riddance.
You can currently stream Brie Larson’s Unicorn Store on Netflix.