“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl
Brie Larson the actress recently headlined a big action movie where she committed to intense training, but as a director has chosen her first project to be a small coming of age at post-college years drama. She’s gone from being the next Cynthia Rothrock to the next Lena Dunham.
Tiny Furniture with a fantastical bent, Unicorn Store is a slight but nevertheless winning effort from its director/star. Funny and whimsical while also quite dramatic and grounded, it’s a portrait that captures the mindset of many in her generation.
Kit (Larson) has failed out of college where she was pursuing an art degree and moves back in with her parents (Bradley Whitford and Joan Cusack). A brief bout of not quite hard depression but still feeling down in the dumps, she is motivated by TV commercials to get her life together. She buttons up and gets an office job, though has some difficulty acclimating or befriending co-workers.
Before long, she receives an invitation to what turns out to be the eponymous locale. She goes there and meets the proprietor (Samuel L. Jackson). But instead of offering her a Capital One account, he claims that he can give her the one thing she’s wanted since childhood: a unicorn. An actual, real live unicorn. She’s excited at the prospect, but he tells her that she first needs to prove herself a worthy caretaker.
The tasks she needs to complete to show that improvement – building a stable, being able to pay for food and supplies, having a greater capacity for love – are all things that make it clear that this is all a metaphor for growing up. Unsubtle as it is, this part of the story gives her needed development and it’s interesting to see the events play out. As she begins to succeed at achieving these steps, her creative side comes back to her. When it does, it runs the risk of coming into conflict with the corporate life she’s gotten into.
Much like Dunham’s earlier film, this one speaks to those in a life period that’s a kind of purgatory. As someone straddling between the two worlds but not really finding a way into either, I found Larson and screenwriter Samantha McIntyre’s (her first feature film script after working on shorts and sitcom episodes) movie to be a great representation of the feeling. You really do want to go back to the other when you get a taste of it again, only to find that state incompatible with the conventional.
If there’s a list of things that the film needed for its own improvement, a couple can be put on it. There’s certainly an in or two to explore clinical depression and mental illness that aren’t taken. Although such material may have thrown off the tone, it would make the proceedings richer and her victories all the more joyous. The store itself could have been more ornate to match the level of surreality built up. Larson’s direction, though, is quite strong and she has a keen eye for visual flair. If she wants it, there’s a future for her in directing that’s as bright as any of the colors on display.
While I don’t know if I’ll ever attain any lofty goals or the inner peace that Kit works towards, but I can say that Unicorn Store is a fine entry in its genre, whichever one you want to put it in. It reminds us that dreams are worth fighting for, no matter how old you are.