Unicorn Store is all about Kit (Brie Larson), a young artist who is struggling with the whole conventional grown-up routine. Her relationship with her parents, Gladys (Joan Cusack) and Gene (Bradley Whitford), is a bit strained, her art is constantly looked down upon and she feels like she’s not living up to what her peers have accomplished. Seeking to correct this, she receives a job making copies of old magazines at a standard advertising agency. It’s the kind of normal grown-up job she’s typically avoided, but Kit has decided now is the time to put away childish things. At least, that’s what she thinks until she gets told by The Salesman (Samuel L. Jackson) that she has the chance to own her very own unicorn.
A unicorn?? Why that’s just what Kit has always wanted! In order to retrieve such a creature though, Kit has got to engage in tasks that prove she’s capable of actually taking care of a unicorn but also run counter to her whole grown-up job initiative. The story of Unicorn Store is a highly oddball one and its thorough commitment to this premise is a big reason why I enjoyed it so much. Samantha McIntyre’s screenplay doesn’t go halfway with this ludicrous concept by, say, having characters simply refer to a unicorn as “that horse creature” like they’re a Marvel/Netflix TV show character vaguely talking about Captain America. Instead, the word unicorn is uttered constantly and we even get to see various rooms that The Salesman has to prepare a unicorn for their prospective owners.
McIntyre’s script isn’t afraid of embracing the fantastical and it’s similarly got a gusto spirit in depicting the oddball tendencies of its lead character who can be frequently found with glitter covering the bottom of her feet. Going down this road with its protagonist should render Kit a cartoonish caricature, but this approach actually ensures Kit hits close to reality. I’ve known so many people just like Kit, heck, I’ve been like Kit many points in my life. Her numerous specifically defined idiosyncracies make her more recognizably a human being, not less so and they help make Kit someone you’re both entertained by and emotionally invested in.
McIntyre’s writing communicates a contagious affection for this character that’s reinforced by both the performance and direction from Brie Larson. Larson’s work as Kit goes in the complete opposite direction of her hauntingly restrained turn in Room or her inspirational work in Captain Marvel. In Unicorn Store, Larson gets to show off a strong hand at comedy, whether it’s in the over-the-top moments, such as her abrupt shouting to her mom about how she’ll order pizza, or more subtle moments like Kit preparing for her first day of “a grown-up job” by casually pouring a cup of pens into her purse. The comedic parts of this role come effortlessly to Larson, as do the scenes where she has to handle the rough-around-the-edges parts of Kit’s personality.
Taking a cue from Samantha McIntyre, Brie Larson doesn’t shy away from how eccentric Kit can be, but she’s exceptional at maintaining a sense of humanity in the part that anchors the character down in reality even when Kit is talking solemnly to her old Care Bears. Larson impresses in her lead performance in Unicorn Store and also provides stellar work behind the camera in her feature film directorial debut (she has previously co-directed a pair of short films). There’s already an assured quality to Larson’s direction that, among other virtues, gets some truly unique performances out of actors like Samuel L. Jackson (you’ve never seen Jackson so whimsical) and she helps to lend the film a unique visual sensibility all of its own.
Much of that unique visual sensibility comes from the costume design by Mirren Gordon-Crozier, reuniting with Larson after they collaborated together on the films Short Term 12 and The Glass Castle. I totally wasn’t expecting Unicorn Store to excel so well in this department, but it totally makes sense that a movie about an artist like Kit who loves bright colors would have costumes that fit that artistic approach. Rare is the scene where Kit isn’t adorned in some new splashy colorful outfit that immediately communicates the characters’ sensibilities as an artist in an instant. Kit may be forced to take on a job, put aside her artistic passions and keep her unicorn mission a secret from others, but her outfits become a way for her to subtly still allow her own unique personality to shine through. This form of subtle wardrobe rebellion allows for a barrage of vibrant attire in Unicorn Store that I was just totally dazzled by.
Though Unicorn Store, which is now streaming on Netflix, does sometimes struggles to juggle all of its storylines and there’s a handful of plotlines which feel like they could have been fleshed out more, those kind of quibbles aren’t what lingered on my mind once this delightful surprise of a movie ended. Instead, I kept thinking of how Unicorn Store had so many wonderful costumes, a truly thoughtful screenplay by Samanta McIntyre and how well this movie works as a showcase for both Brie Larson’s versatility as a performer and her skills as a filmmaker. Unicorn Store totally reminded me of Brigsby Bear (that’s never ever a bad movie to remind me of!) in how it totally embraces an eccentric premise and a unique lead character as a way to effectively explore relatable human experiences.