Unicorn Store hits Netflix on April 5th.
By I. Simon
Over the course of this decade, Brie Larson has proven herself to be one of the greatest actresses working in Hollywood. Between nuanced, powerful performances in Room (for which she won a well deserved Academy Award) and Short Term 12, strong comedic work in Scott Pilgrim and United States of Tara, and a combination of both of those things in the titular role of Captain Marvel, the amount of talent and versatility that Larson possesses as an actress at an age of only 29 is nothing short of astonishing. The idea of her directing a feature film, let alone one titled Unicorn Store, really got me intrigued to say the least. Given that Larson is anything but a conventional actress or person, I couldn’t help but be incredibly interested to see what she does with a film that has that kind of a premise. Having finally seen it (after it was stuck in distribution limbo due to highly unfair lukewarm reviews coming out of TIFF), I am ecstatic to say that Larson, in her feature directorial debut, has crafted a fantastic film.
For a first time feature, it’s shocking how much confidence Brie Larson shows behind the camera. Not only is the filmmaking incredibly creative and quite skillful, but Larson pays so much attention to details. The cinematography is so well utilized in not only capturing environments with great framing and camera movements, but to capture the major contrasts visually as a whole, with some having a warmer palette and then there are scenes with a more muted color palette, with the idea of Kit (Brie Larson) being such a colorful character in such a grey world. There’s also extremely creative uses of sound design, as well as an even more creative original score, to reflect the film’s whimsical tone. Speaking of whimsical tone, the film is super committed and consistent in both tone and atmosphere throughout the entire film. It is so offbeat and quirky (though it isn’t overbearing about it) and fully commits to that tone throughout. The film also has fantastic costume and production design, and is so tightly edited. But more than anything, Larson injects so much genuine heart and sincerity into the film, making it work so much more than it probably should, and even if it can feel a tad rough around the edges at times, there’s clear palpable passion behind the camera (and in front of it) that one can’t help but love it.
The script, written by Samantha McIntyre, might be somewhat simple, but simple isn’t a bad thing at all. The film is aggressively and unashamedly optimistic for the most part, yet it works because of how charming and wholesome it is as a whole, mainly because Larson is clearly so passionate about the material that she is working with. The narrative might have a few fairly familiar beats, but the overall execution makes it feel entirely fresh. The film also knows to never take itself too seriously, as there are bits of comedy scattered throughout, and most of them land, especially in the scenes shared between Kit and The Salesman (Samuel L. Jackson).
Ultimately, Unicorn Store is a story about one trying to follow their dreams, something that so many people will undoubtedly relate to.
As much as Brie Larson’s direction is the main reason why Unicorn Store works, her charismatic and charming performance is also key to the film’s success. She finds the perfect balance between being childlike and human, so while Kit may be super quirky, she never comes across as a caricature. There are also some great supporting performances here as well. Mamoudou Athie provides strong work as Virgil, who plays off Kit’s childlike and energetic nature with a more deadpan-like one. Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford have their moments as Kit’s parents. However, the best supporting performance is easily Samuel L. Jackson’s fantastic performance as The Salesman, possibly his most memorable (or at least, his least conventional) performance in a while.
I wasn’t quite sure what to really expect from Brie Larson’s feature directorial debut, but now having seen Unicorn Store, I see an incredibly promising future for her as a filmmaker, and as wonderful of an actress Larson is, I really hope that she continues to direct as well, because Larson has shown here that she can do great things behind the camera. Like its protagonist, Unicorn Store might not be absolute perfection, but is undeniably charming and sincere. I highly recommend checking out Unicorn Store on Netflix.
I give Unicorn Store an A.