The writers and film lovers here at Full Circle Cinema know that opinions on films are divisive and can get pretty argumentative, but to encourage friendly and lively debate we have Full Circle Showdown; an in-depth discussion and collaborative review from two writers who have different opinions and ways of seeing films.
This second showdown surrounds Unicorn Store, which is Brie Larson’s directorial debut with her starring in it, along with Samuel L Jackson and Mamoudou Athie.
Review #1: Jacqueline Lainez (News Writer/Critic)
Unicorn Store is a cute story about how an individual goes through what life throws at them for being different. However, it falls short in giving a concrete story and being told in a way to resonate with the audience. Brie Larson plays Kit, a woman who never really learned to grow out of the rainbows, fairytales and so on. Larson plays her to be a naive and quirky character and I personally grew to love her.
The thing I loved most about Kit is how she is relatable in a way that she is just trying to succeed in her own way. Despite having failed as an artist, she stays true to who she wants to be, even if it means to conform for just a little bit. She shows throughout this film that she’s truly different and the last thing she ever hopes to do in the end, is to stay conformed forever to what most people do.
Samuel L Jackson as the Salesmen of The Store was a nice touch that had someone like me, a lot more interested in this film. He plays such a fun character that you really cannot take your eyes off of the screen every time he appears. To see him and Larson in a film right after the hit success of Captain Marvel was great.
Considering the name being “Unicorn Store” I had hoped it would have been more visually colorful but the moments when it felt like a fairytale or very colorful, certainly didn’t disappoint or fail. That still does not mean I did not hope for more as it could have really taken this film to a different level.
Honestly, I don’t really know what they really wanted us to take from this film. I can see it being that we all grow in our own way but at the same time stay true to the child inside of us? It was a tad confusing but it was a fun story that just was not executed properly.
In the end, Unicorn Store fails to bring a solid story about what it means to grow up in this day and age. What saved this film was Larson herself as Kit. I give Larson a lot of credit for giving us Kit, a loveable character that showed the courage to be herself, even if it comes off as childish. Regardless, being Larson’s first film as a director, the movie had its flaws like all do, but I would not call this film a success or a failure. I would call it more like a learning experience for Larson. If she truly wants to be able to become a successful filmmaker. Larson to star and direct a film for the first time, it is out there for the world to see and I respect her even more as a public figure after this.
Review #2: Mark Tan (News Writer/Critic)
Child-like whimsy is far from a harmful concept for most people. So why is it that people spend so much time burying it when entering adulthood? Nowhere does it state that growing up means moving away from a whimsical mindset. In fact, there are some cases where embracing a youthful perspective can be pleasurable and necessary. This sentiment is significant in the case of Unicorn Store – because it serves as the film’s central theme.
The film focuses on the protagonist, Kit (Larson), as she desires for others to accept her passion for wonder. To further drive the point, there are several key scenes that clarify this message. The clearest example is when Kit does an upbeat work presentation for a vacuum. During this presentation, she throws confetti to business executives as she cleans it up. The scene ends with the following line: “Does it read a little childish, the whole magical rainbowness of it all?” With this one question, the audience is able to identify the human obstacles for Kit and her determination to overcome them.
Kit’s ever-present optimism is the main reason the film is a compelling insight into the immaturity of millennials. From the opening scenes onward, Samantha McIntyre’s screenplay cements Kit as a struggling adult. In the first five minutes, we are introduced to her receiving poor grades for her artwork. However, we see her searching for a job not long after an advertisement for a job firm inspires her. All of this happens as we see Kit’s parents, Gladys (Joan Cusack) and Gene (Bradley Whitford), becoming more confused at the sight of their daughter not having a boyfriend. By the end of the first act, McIntyre is effective at presenting the starting point, the inciting event, and the adversaries Kit must face along the way.
Another terrific aspect of McIntyre’s script is how she portrays the story’s more fantastical elements in a matter-of-fact way. These include the titular unicorn store – known as The Store – and the man behind its wonders, The Salesman (Samuel L. Jackson). In a typical script, The Store and The Salesman would be exaggerated in their lack of realism. This especially applies to The Store since it takes place in a large, isolated area that could contain almost anything.
Meanwhile, McIntyre intends to keep them in a reasonable reality, which puts the audience in Kit’s perspective. Because of this, The Salesman comes off more like an eccentric man than a figment of her imagination. Moreover, The Store seems like a fun, tangible place because that is 100% how Kit sees it. From a writing perspective, this is a solid light-hearted drama that appropriately blurs the line between fantasy and reality. Not to mention, this is a film that is not afraid to give its main character palpable desires and flaws.
But in its attempt to depict light-heartedness as a positive, it seems that Brie Larson: The Director did not get that memo. At best, she knows how to get terrific work from her cast, and she even manages to get a solid performance from herself as Kit. Between her wide-eyed expressions and her soft demeanor, Larson has no problems playing her own character. By contrast, she struggles with providing any standout visual storytelling. In fact, Alex Greenwald’s twinkly score does more to embody the script’s sense of wonder than any shot in its 92-minute runtime.
It is one thing for cinematographer Brett Pawlak to use naturalistic colors and handheld camerawork as he did with previous Larson vehicles like Short Term 12 and The Glass Castle. It is another for the colors and camerawork to go against the entirety of the film’s central message. Rarely does the movie not grapple with the idea of “childishness is favorable”, yet Larson is superior at depicting events from an outsider’s perspective. Scenes such as the vacuum presentation contain more quick reaction shots of concerned outsiders than clear shots of Kit doing what she loves. At most, Larson stops once in a while to provide the audience with close-ups of her smiling. However, she does little else to convey Kit’s emotions in cinematic form. Combine this inappropriate decision with her struggle to visualize scenes with aesthetic flair, and you have a story that feels constrained when told as a movie.
This is not to say Unicorn Store is a failure or even a disappointment. After all, seeing a first-time filmmaker make a decent movie is an achievement in itself. Given extra time, Larson could improve her craft to create interesting movies with a distinct personality. Perhaps a future project will allow her to tell a narrative that better fits her realist sensibilities, or maybe she will find ways to embrace a wider scope. Make no mistake: there is room for a more engaging Unicorn Store. But the one that exists is charming enough that it remains a decent afternoon watch. At the very least, it has more going for it than its belated 2019 wide release would suggest.
Considering this is Larson’s debut as a director, Jacqueline and Mark believe that this film was not a disappointment in any way, it just needed a story that could relate back to the audience. Both also agree that Larson’s character Kit is what kept this film together.
Unicorn Store is now streaming on Netflix. It stars Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Joan Cusack, Bradley Whitford, Karan Soni and Mamoudou Athie.