Movies · Reviews

‘Unicorn Store’ and the Beauty of Believing in the Abstract

In her feature film directorial debut, Brie Larson crafts a strangely relatable narrative of quirky alienation that compels us all to chase our best lives in our inner child.
Brie Larson Unicorn Store
By  · Published on April 9th, 2019

Softly ambitious and wilfully impressionistic, Brie Larson‘s feature directorial debut Unicorn Store is almost indescribably moving. Perhaps the closest word to really sum it up would be “pure.” Not because the movie is simplistically childish or somehow lacking in palpable emotional resonance. Rather, Unicorn Store is on a mission to open hearts and rejuvenate minds with sheer earnestness, one puff of glitter at a time.

Through the eyes of a confused young adult, Unicorn Store asks us to reevaluate our relationship with our inner creativity. In fact, to be openly and daringly imaginative is posited to be an experience that’s akin to having a superpower of sorts. After all, a true embrace of wonderment is capable of saving the lost and weary from the tiresome grind of everyday existence that forces individuals into prescribed boxes.

Unicorn Store follows aspiring artist Kit (played to dazzling perfection by Larson). As a child, she dressed in rainbow hues, painted unicorns on her cheek, played make-believe, and created without limits. Although many years have since passed, Kit’s greatest passion can still be found in washes of multicolor on canvas, spread far outside of any ascribed lines. Sadly, the more conventional art world isn’t exactly keen on such unpredictability. When Kit fails to impress some stoic invigilators with a free-form self-portrait project, she has no choice but to return to a stifling day-to-day existence in her parents’ home.

That is, until Kit’s life takes a drastic turn when a man in a fluorescent suit (Samuel L. Jackson) tries to sell her a unicorn in The Store.

Everything about this summary could lead audiences to prematurely judge Kit as “weird” or “quirky” in the most superficial way. However, the character is far more than meets the eye. She toes the line of socially-acceptable professionalism as best she can. Per Kit’s own admission in the film, she doesn’t know how to adult very well. She’s really just trying to find a way to set her vibrant spirit free and be taken seriously for it.

As a result, Kit has a tendency to exist in a limbo state; to renounce conformity even when she has nothing else to seek solace in. Throughout Unicorn Store, she reacts to many situations around her in ways that seem as entitled and privileged as they are kindred and cathartic. This can be seen in Kit’s blasé attitude at her first temp job. Her continual rejection of her parents’ help and support after her ousting from the world of fine arts is another instance, too. Frustratingly, Kit pouts, frowns, and unreasonably shouts at her mom and dad on various occasions. She appears too caught up in her own world to notice how others are feeling…

Except that’s only one facet of who Kit is. Now, I doubt I would exactly complain if Bradley Whitford and Joan Cusack were my parents, but we’re always clued in on how Kit likely knows that her mother and father mean her well. Still, their perceived disapproval of her authentic (if more abstract) self fosters the resentful assumption that they view her as a disappointment. Something to “fix.”

Hence, when Jackson’s Salesman sends Kit multiple personalized invites to The Store and offers her the chance to raise a real-life unicorn, how could she resist? This is literally her dream. So, this unicorn needs a home brimming with unconditional love and happiness? The dang unicorn will get the most magical stable in existence. Kit will personally deliver all the hugs every day and feed it the most premium of hay.

Through this odd pet project, Kit and the unassuming carpenter-in-the-making, Virgil (Mamoudou Athie), have their meet-cute. There’s a catch, though. At first, Virgil is commissioned to help Kit build a home worthy of…”something like a horse. Smaller than a horse, like a pony?” In Kit’s eyes, Virgil is a nice enough fellow. Nonetheless, she consciously holds off on revealing the exact details about her incoming mystical creature due to a constant awareness that the world at large wouldn’t give her the time of day if they knew she believed (or wants to believe) in unicorns. In the name of self-preservation, Kit keeps her most precious secret safe until she thinks she knows who to trust.

Unfortunately, the real world can still trip her up. Such calculations are bound to backfire. As Kit goes down the path of self-discovery whilst preparing for the arrival of her unicorn, she attempts to approach the more mundane responsibilities at her day job in considerably more bombastic, colorful ways. Needless to say, after pouring glitter all over a conference room, Kit’s sleazy boss and a whole lot of other executives deem her experiment a failure.

However, Kit isn’t as insular as these prim and proper naysayers make her out to be. She is shown to have a very real capacity to inspire others. For instance, building a stable teaches Virgil valuable skills in construction that nab him a better job and better prospects. His growing friendship and budding romance with Kit is eye-opening to the possibilities of pure belief. Honestly, you can’t just unsee something as special as a unicorn.

All of these aspects give Unicorn Store a strange, unique flow as a film. That said, there are discernible gaps in Kit’s characterization that make the movie airier than it could have the potential for. Samantha McIntyre‘s screenplay is ultimately very loosely-formed, but this might have been intentionally done for universality’s sake, given Unicorn Store‘s themes of self-acceptance and coming-of-age.

As a result, Brett Pawlak‘s evocative cinematography is pretty much necessary to present these ideas beautifully and poignantly. The star power of Unicorn Store‘s cast keeps the narrative affecting and appropriately charming, as well. Otherwise, Kit’s past and present would have needed to be more fleshed out for her motivations to be easily palatable.

Yet almost contradictorily, Unicorn Store draws us in because of its insistent open-ended qualities, too. Whoever said Kit has to be agreeable for us to understand her, anyway?

The movie concludes on a decidedly happy, if starkly quiet resolution. Kit is clearly made a better person after extended visits to The Store, but her journey onwards remains mostly amorphous. Thankfully, at least she can now be okay with that kind unknowability and find peace within herself to try new things (like a relationship) and begin to live her best life.

The strongest takeaway from Unicorn Store is that a bright star like Kit has a lot to learn about life and love, but she could teach life itself a thing or two about chasing dreams and valuing self-worth. “The most grown-up thing you can do is fail at the things you care about,” even if they don’t always make sense to everyone else. For adults young and old who feel particularly alienated in their place in society compared to everyone else, Unicorn Store is definitely for you.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)