Magazine article Screen International

'Unicorn Store': Toronto Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Unicorn Store': Toronto Review

Article excerpt

Brie Larson makes her directorial debut with a sweet story about growing up and accepting reality

Dir. Brie Larson. US. 2017. 92mins

Both skewering and celebrating its adult protagonist’s childlike wonder, Unicorn Store runs the risk of excessive whimsy at every turn, as it follows an emotionally stunted failed artist who is fairly certain she’s about to receive the titular magical creature. This tonally tricky material needs just the right touch - sincere but also self-aware - and director-star Brie Larson navigates through a cute story’s clear limitations to deliver a film that’s often quite funny, even if it sometimes flirts with being cringe-worthy.

Larson manages to mitigate the twee factor thanks to a droll, deadpan perspective that affectionately tweaks the film’s premise

This Toronto Film Festival premiere will benefit from Larson’s growing celebrity, as well as boasting a supporting turn from her Kong: Skull Island co-star Samuel L. Jackson. Its sights set on the art-house crowd, Unicorn Store also looks like a good fit for streaming services and VOD.

Larson plays Kit, who has just failed at art school and been forced to move back in with her touchy-feely parents (Joan Cusack, Bradley Whitford). Deciding she needs to grow up and abandon her creative dreams, this sheltered, stuffed-animal-loving young woman starts temping in an advertising firm’s dreary office. But the real excitement begins after she gets a mysterious invitation to a pop-up store run by a nameless salesman (Jackson), who tells her that, if she proves her worthiness, he’ll give her the one thing she’s always wanted: her very own unicorn.

From that plot description, most will correctly surmise that Unicorn Store weighs the value of childlike innocence against the needs to face the realities of the adult world. But while this comedy-drama is sometimes achingly precious - is the unicorn offer legitimate or Kit’s weird fantasy? - Larson manages to mitigate the twee factor thanks to a droll, deadpan perspective that affectionately tweaks the film’s premise.

As director and star, Larson leads by example, mostly shooting Samantha McIntyre’s screenplay in a realistic manner. Kit may adore colourful outfits, pastel face paint and mounds of glitter, but Unicorn Store stages her world with blasé indifference, which makes her indomitably ebullient reactions even funnier. …

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