Warning, mild spoilers ahead!
A glittery pastel fever dream, Unicorn Store (2017, dir. Brie Larson) presents itself as a candy-coated coming of age story. The film centers on twentysomething Kit, a recent art school flunky who moved into her parents’ basement. Played by indie cinema darling turned Marvel hero, Brie Larson---with the film also serving as her directorial debut--- Kit is introduced as the sort of directionless creative type almost all creative types are terrified of becoming.
After lounging in a depressed blanket cocoon on her parents’ couch, Kit decides that it’s time to grow up, taking a job in a soul-sucking office complete with its very own lecherous boss who wants to help her “remove all her layers.” But when she receives numerous invitations to a mysterious place called “The Store,” Kit’s offered the chance of a lifetime. The Salesman, played by Larson’s real-life friend and frequent co-star, Samuel L. Jackson, dressed in outlandish suits and draped in an appropriate amount of tinsel, promises that if Kit proves her worthiness, he can get her what she’s always wanted. A unicorn.
While the basic idea and aesthetics of the movie are straight out of a Lisa Frank coloring book, the meaning and the message are clunky, hamfisted, and confusing at best. Kit is naive, childish in her whimsy in a way that is almost admirable. I wanted to sympathize with her, and for much of the film, I did.
As a woman in the arts who wears a substantial amount of glitter and rainbows, I saw both myself and my worst fears in Kit---the listlessness, the failures, the “well maybe it’s just time to grow ups.” The hopelessness and directionlessness in Kit are painfully relatable to anyone who has ever been an artist and been told that maybe you should just act a little more mature. It’s in those moments of relatability where you can see what the movie tried to achieve.
But somehow, Unicorn Store still fumbles. It offers up no solutions to the problem. Stuck in between the muddied messages of “grow up and let go” and “hold on to your whimsy,” Unicorn Store can’t seem to make up its mind about what it wants to say. In one particularly confusing scene, The Salesman yells at Kit, telling her that she’s selfish, that not everything in “The Store” is for her (despite, even as Kit points out in the film, it sort of seemed like it was). But prior to that point in the film, I never thought that Kit was selfish for wanting to pursue her dreams, for not wanting to settle into the humdrum life she clearly didn’t want.
Because isn’t that the point of trying to make her life suitable for a unicorn? Of trying to search for the spectacular in a life that isn’t what you planned? The movie doesn’t seem to understand what it is that it wants you to take away. While Larson does her best both in front and behind the camera to make the message mean something, it comes away feeling like nothing. Despite its flaws, I didn’t dislike the movie, in fact, I really wanted to like the movie because I saw so much of myself in Kit. But even that relatability couldn’t save it from itself.
Overall, Unicorn Store had some jokes that truly made me laugh out loud, solid performances from all actors involved, and interesting, albeit simple, cinematography and production value (we get it, she likes rainbows and the rest of the world is drab). But in the end, it couldn’t salvage any substance through all the rainbow streamers.