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#NetflixAndChill: You're better off giving Brie Larson's directorial debut, Unicorn Store, a miss

If Brie Larson became your new girl crush after Captain Marvel, you might be tempted to take out a Netflix subscription just to see her directorial debut Unicorn Store. Or maybe you're not a superhero fan, but you love unicorns and the pastel colours and the poster looks enticing enough to click on.
A word of warning: unless you are truly bored, desperate for another Larson fix before Avengers: Endgame or you’ve watched everything else on Netflix, then you’d better give this one a miss.

Typical depressed-chick stuff

The premise of the film isn’t bad: an art student gets kicked out of school for using too much glitter and is forced to move back in with her parents and give up on her dreams. For a movie that’s got a mythical creature in its title, it confronts us with a harsh reality thousands have experienced: artists need to find ‘real’ jobs.

Kit (Larson) is hellbent on not being a complete disappointment to her hippie-esque parents, Gladys (Joan Cusack) and Gene (Bradley Whitford). She lounges on her couch for a bit, eats junk food and flicks through channels – typical depressed-chick stuff – until she sees an advertisement. Prompted by this ad and her fear of failure, Kit exchanges her rainbow-coloured sweaters for a suit.

But even at the mercy of the 9–5 grind, no square cubicle can crush this girl’s dreams. No matter where Kit goes, The Salesman (Samuel L Jackson) manages to find her. After receiving a string of invites to The Store, curiosity wins out and Kit decides to visit this mysterious place. With minor digressions, the rest of the film chronicles a series of challenges she must face before she can be deemed a fit unicorn owner. A few lessons are learnt and she even makes a friend or two along the way.

Electric pink suits and an afro covered in tinsel

It was hard for me to pinpoint exactly what was wrong with the film because it gets kind of fun right towards the end. I had to sit through more than an hour before the first remotely amusing scene plays out. I went in thinking this film had to be good and, even if it wasn’t, Jackson with his electric pink suits would save the day. I mean, what’s not to like about an afro covered in tinsel? Jackson is his usual charismatic self and does a great job portraying The Salesman.

He guides Kit through the ‘unicorn challenges’ and dispenses wisdom with just a hint of tough love. In fact, The Salesman seems a better parent than her real ones. Glen and Gladys are a rather bizarre construction. Instead of encouraging their daughter, they push her to adopt their definition of success, which is, of course, a soul-crushing corporate gig. The only thing weirder than their parenting skills is their obsession with kale – it’s inhuman to finish a plateful of that stuff! Not only does Kit have the worst kind of well-meaning parents, but she also has a boss who couldn’t be more creepy if he tried.

Virgil (Mamoudou Athie) is the ray of light that cuts through all this misery. Tall, dark and roguishly handsome, this Mauritian actor plays Larson’s love interest. I like that their relationship is not rushed and that there are no staring-hopelessly-into-each-others-eyes scenes. There is, however, a road trip where some snacks are eaten and songs are sung, but the on-screen chemistry feels real and we get to see Athi’s gorgeous smile for a bit so this cliché may be forgiven. Unicorn Store is my first taste of Athi and I’m impressed with the authenticity he brings to Virgil’s character. He’s got the kind of voice that can hold an audience; I just wish they’d given him more screen time.

A waste of time

The film premiered in 2017 at the Toronto International Film Festival, but it wasn’t released until Netflix bought the rights in 2019. Unicorn Store has one fairly good scene and a few talented actors, but it’s far too much glitter and not enough gold. I stand by what I said, the premise of the film is good; sadly, it takes too long to make its point.

The ending is unexpected, but also unsatisfactory. It didn’t bring the closure I was hoping for, but for a moment I was fooled into thinking it had. Let me explain: in the last 10 minutes of the film, tears started rolling down my cheeks. Were my allergies flaring up due to all the pixie dust I’d inhaled? Or was it possible that this mess of a movie had touched me in the end?

It took me a while before I realised I wasn’t moved by the film! I was weeping because I had wasted an hour and a half of my life I would never get back.
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About Ayesha Abrahams

Ayesha is a self-confessed bibliophile. When she's not reading stories, she's writing them. This former teacher and editor is a diehard Potterhead. Currently she's completing her MA in Creative Writing. Ayesha will almost always choose tea over coffee, and writes articles when she's supposed to be working on her thesis.