Debut director Brie Larson tackles millennial growing pains in Unicorn Store, a super sweet, affecting comedy with a magical premise and a terrific central performance from Larson herself. Flunking out of art school and still living at home, Kit’s (Larson) life has stalled.
The most consistent criticism levelled at the so-called ‘millennial’ generation is their refusal to grow up, enjoying extended childhoods as they wallow in nostalgia and give up on adult aspirations like steady careers and home ownership. While the glittery Unicorn Store is unlikely to convert the cynics, its insight and warmth is a salve to twentysomethings in the midst of quarter-life crises.
More importantly, the film’s damn hilarious, anchored by a turn from Larson that effortlessly combines the deadpan and the sincere. If the Ghostbusters reboot ever gets a sequel, can someone please find a way to get her on the team? From the shots of Kit somatising herself in front of daytime TV, to her pant-suited affectations as she starts a corporate temp job and the unhinged glint in her eyes as lathers vacuum cleaners in glitter, Larson is a comic revelation. Immersed in the multicoloured cutesy world of Rainbow Brite and kindergarten art contests, Kit is a model of arrested development. She’s not a fantasist, though – rainbows are real, after all.
Apparently, so are unicorns, if the eponymous store’s salesman (Samuel L. Jackson) is to be believed. Clad in colourful garb and with tinsel in his hair, The Salesman is right out of an 1980s kids movie, but whether he’s for real, a fantasy, or a conman is smartly held back until the film’s closing moments. Recalling beloved Rik Mayall vehicle Drop Dead Fred, as well as the surrealist films of Spike Jonze, Unicorn Store is very much a kids’ movie for adults, using the structure and aesthetic of children’s cinema to tackle mental health issues, responsibility and generational angst.
The Salesman tells Kit that to qualify for unicorn ownership, she must prove herself by creating the right environment for it, giving the film its quest-like structure as she completes each task in turn. Enlisting the help of hardware store skivvy Virgil (Mamoudou Athie), Kit sets to work, dodging her parents’ well-meaning but excruciating ’emotion quest’ interventions and preparing for a presentation at work. The presentation subplot, incidentally, is a riot, skewering corporate bro culture as well as delivering the film’s biggest, most colourful belly laughs.
Unicorn Store may well prove too twee for some, and it’s debatable whether the ending really hits the resolution that Kit needs, but Kit’s existential crisis will undoubtedly strike a chord for anyone who ever wanted to retreat to the safety and freedom of childhood.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell