Brie Larson is certainly taking some ambitious steps in her professional career. At the age of 28, she’s already become a professional actress, winning an Oscar and starring in the billion dollar Captain Marvel; as well as take time to be a pop singer. She’s one of the few celebrities who seems to be lucking out and finding large opportunities everywhere she goes. Whether you like her or not, she’s certainly making the rounds at a brisk pace.
Now, she’s taking the next big step in the filmmaking world, and making her directorial debut with the new Netflix comedy Unicorn Store. She also plays the lead; a “charismatic” and “artistic” college flunky named Kit. She feels pressured to do something with her life after failing out of her prestigious art school. Taking a menial job at an office, she feels accomplished, but also feels like she still hasn’t found the right path in life.
That is, until she receives an invitation to check out a place called The Store, run by the strange and energetic Salesman (Samuel L. Jackson). He gives her the offer to purchase and own something she has wanted since she was a little girl: a unicorn. Forced to confront certain issues in her life in order to provide a stable home for her unicorn, Kit will “learn” that maybe some childhood dreams are meant to be let go.
It truly is an ambitious next step for Larson to take on the duties of a director at such a young age, especially when she’s also starring in the film. It’s challenging to take the reins and make a film of your own, and to also headline the cast adds at least double to pressure to you as the filmmaker. Not having been in the limelight for very long, one can’t help but raise an eyebrow when hearing that she’s now making her directing debut. So to illustrate the possible feelings she might have had, here’s a story.
In 1941, there was a film called Citizen Kane. It was written, directed, produced, and starring Orsen Welles, who had already made headlines with his controversial radio broadcast The War of the Worlds. Citizen Kane went on to receive 9 nominations at the Academy Awards, and won the award for Best Original Screenplay. It has cemented its place in cinema history as one of the greatest films ever made, becoming influential staple in the way films are made today.
And Orsen Welles was only 25 when he made it.
One can’t help but wonder if thoughts like these kinds of thoughts were swirling in Brie’s head when she was given the chance to direct this film. She’s only three years older than Welles was when he changed the film industry. Brie’s rise to fame has cemented her as star material within the last 4 or so years. Whether she has become an influence or an icon is up to interpretation. But to make her directing debut at such a young age, and within the winning streak she’s having, maybe she too thought she could change the industry with this film.
And there are times where this film feels like it is. The way it treats its story and characters feels like it thinks it’s more brilliant than it is. It spends its 92 minute runtime attempting to set itself apart from similar stories, just like its main characters is trying to set herself apart from anyone else. The film is so inclined to support the idea of being artistic and unique, that Larson actually succeeds in speaking to her target audience; young girls and women.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. Unicorn Store is made for a young female audience. It’s a story that speaks to those who think society is hindering their creative freedom. The film shows them that it’s okay to embrace your childish side and expresses yourself no matter what anyone thinks of you. There is nothing wrong with thinking that way, and cinema is one of the best platforms to express a message like that.
Unfortunately, Larson’s efforts comes at a fatal cost; one that seriously hurt your chances of success. While it succeeds in empowering young women, it also succeeds in alienating literally everyone else. It’s okay to express a message like this with your art, but one of the biggest mistakes you could make is denying people not of your target audience the same feelings. If that’s your intention, then your film is no better than an elementary school clique denying someone from joining.
One of the biggest factors in this feeling is the film’s screenplay. While it’s hard not to give props to screenwriter for her creative concept, nothing about this film feels natural. The world of Kit is depicted as grey, dry, and devoid of any humor except for anything Kit touches. And throughout the film, she wears these strange, outlandish clothes that everyone passes off as costumes, thought she claims they’re her normal clothes.
Look, there’s nothing inherently “normal” about the film; it’s a full blown fantasy. But even the most magical of fantasy films have to be grounded in reality at least a little bit. In the reality parts of the film, nothing said, worn, or done feels like it would in real life. In the end, all of it feels off-putting; too strange to actually be entertaining. The costumes are strange, and the dialogue feels like forced social commentary about how bad men are for a woman’s image (further alienating the audience).
The same goes for the performances. Nobody in this film looks like they are having fun, and not once do they give any genuine emotion. Everything about their reactions look and feel fake. Even Brie herself gives what is arguably the worst performance of her career, as she spends the entirety of the film blankly staring at her co-stars and giving very fake bursts of happiness every once and a while. There’s more comedy in her lackluster performance than in the movie itself.
The only actor who gives a good performances is Jackson, whose portrayal of The Salesman steals the show. While everyone in this world of Brie’s walks around like mindless, emotionless zombies, Jackson is the only guy who gives off any genuine expressions. He also has the best delivery of dialogue, where it doesn’t feel like he’s just reading a script. He looks like he truly embraced his character, unlike pretty much everyone else in the cast.
It also doesn’t help that the film’s overall message is kind of mixed. The lesson it’s going for is that, sometimes, you need to let go of your childhood fantasies and grow up. Kit does learn this in the end, but at the same time, she doesn’t. By the end of the film, she’s still the childish outcast she was at the beginning. If her message is that it’s okay to express yourself, that’s fine, but in an age where we encourage childish behavior in young adults, it’s not really the message we need.
If there’s something good to say about the film, it’s that Brie has hints of a unique visual flare. She pretty much fails in working with actors (going back to the bland performances), but visually, the film is nice to look at. It’s colorful, whimsical, and happy, at least in the scenes where such feelings are present. It’s hard to say that Brie has the potential to be a great director, but there are little bits here and there that might suggests such.
Unicorn Store will definitely speak to it’s target audience, whether you think that’s a good thing or not. It certainly has a bit of visual inventiveness and has the makings of a creative comedy, and Samuel L. Jackson tries hard to save it. However, the film’s blatant disregard for anyone not of said target audience and unnecessarily bleak depiction of it’s world suggest Brie needs to do a little soul searching before taking the helm of another venture.