For a talent like Brie Larson, the sky has always been the limit. Now, she’s literally soaring the skies as Captain Marvel in a small lil Marvel film called Avengers: Endgame. But before her super-powered turn and the Oscar win that made her a household name, Larson shined in modestly-budgeted indies filled with complex character work such as the fantastic Short Term 12 and The Spectacular Now. This year, she made her directorial debut with Netflix’s Unicorn Store, which unfortunately is a mixed bag of misdirected whimsy and confusion.
Larson stars as Kit, a failed artist who moves back in with her parents (the incomparable Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford) after getting kicked out of art school. She fumbles a bit before taking a job at a temp agency until her attention is piqued by a mysterious message from “The Salesman” (Samuel L. Jackson) who invites her to a store claiming to have exactly what she needs. Not so spoilery spoiler alert: She apparently needs a unicorn.
The Salesman offers her the chance to fulfill every little girl’s dream: the chance to own her own horned horse. She dives in head first learning how to properly care for unicorns and hiring a local hardware store worker, Virgil, to build a stable in her parents’ back yard. As Kit grows more invested in her soon-to-be new unicorn friend, she and Virgil get closer despite the fact that she’s kept The Salesman and her plans a secret from him. But is she hallucinating this entire rouse? Does the unicorn store actually exist? What kind of movie is this anyways?
The answers to those questions are pretty lackluster. The problem with Unicorn Store is that it fails to fully commit to its fantastical premise. While it succeeds at being a lighthearted watch full of whimsy, glitter, and bright colors, it never leans into its oddities making it tonally confusing. It neither plays its premise straight enough, nor capitalizes on its bizarro plot, which leaves it in an uninteresting and ambiguous middle ground. The movie has an incredible supporting cast at the ready, but Samantha McIntyre’s script doesn’t provide much opportunity for them to flex. They’re just sort of there existing in the background.
The movie tries its hand at being eccentric and memorable but falls short of the prize. As Kit struggles to define herself and find her purpose, we’re left feeling rather bewildered. The ending aims to fulfill a character arc and closure for Kit, but it’s half-cooked and ironically devoid of color despite being visually splattered with beautiful, artistic hues.
Unicorn Store runs through its 92-minutes painlessly enough, but ultimately feels lifeless and unimportant. It suggests that all we need is an over-the-top distraction from our problems and dreams, that everything is going to be fine if we just battle complacency with magic just beyond our reach. Sadly, nothing in this Store is appealing enough. It’s worth a watch if the cast sparks your fancy (they work overtime trying to uplift the script’s quirks), but you’d be better off watching Larson work some real magic in Short Term 12. Grade: C-