Unicorn Store

***1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Unicorn Store
"There will be someone, many, out there who will love it."

I'm still not sure about Unicorn Store. I suppose that's probably the cynic in me hedging my bets, hesitant about throwing my lot in with a film that is at once as simple and as deep. A unicorn is of course a horse with something extra and so too this film.

Behind the camera, in a feature directorial d├ębut, Brie Larson. Written by Samantha McIntyre, whose CV has plenty of comedy work. Alex Greenwald of Phantom Planet provides music, and there's some really good production and costume work - enough that even if there's a sense that there was an accidental extra digit on an Etsy voucher and somewhere a pin badge museum is dealing with an astonishing heist there's real effort to make credible expressions of both joy and tedium. Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford's parental wardrobes are at the nightmarish suburban intersection of jorts and woggles, cul-de-sacs made slacks. Brie Larsen's Kit has all the bits to put something together but isn't quite managing.

Copy picture

From an opening (in the trailer too) that shows just how out of step she is with art school, and then stepping out thereof, there's a bout of televisual wallowing, as affecting a portrait of flattened affect as any other I can think of. The crushing beige tedium of an office job. A reminder (though I dispute it) that "graph paper can't love you back" leaves the hope of something more.

That something more is the unicorn store - Samuel L Jackson's natural charisma means that this venue charms almost as much as it initially unsettles.

After a bespoke invitation (one of many of those lovely bits of glittery craft) to visit, the red neon seems one of those needful things rather than joyful sings. To say that the store's mechanisms are outwith the ordinary is to ignore the joy of instructional records, and if Nectar points were as hard to acquire a fair few more retailers would be struggling.

There's also a marked contrast with the hardware store where Virgil works. One of a handful of men in Kit's life (we don't need to talk about Kevin) he's dragged into her orbit as she makes preparations for unicorn ownership. Mamoudou Athie's Virgil manages to ground wider fancies, but in a film full of strong supporting performances it's overwhelmingly Brie's film.

Good combinations abound - as much as Cholula and Cheese Wiz, Cusack and Whitford, Larsen and Jackson, Larsen and Linklater, the contrast between cubicles (as seen in Three Walls) and thinking far outside the box (as with, say, The Incredibly Elastic Man) is almost palpable. It's full of lovely moments, humour from sources as diverse as earnestness (wildly important) and the impracticalities of buying hay (not just when the sun shines). Yet in all of it there's Brie, flying high with Captain Marvel, and therein is a tale.

Unicorn Store is a 2017 film - it has languished in obscurity, it was at Toronto and Edinburgh International Film Festivals, and its safe to say reviews have been mixed, including this one. It charmed me, I enjoyed it, but I wasn't as compelled to sing its praises as I have been about other films with which it shares a tone and feel. Larsen's really good, but that shouldn't surprise anyone - in a CV that veers from genre to genre she's an incredibly capable actress, and clearly confident behind the camera. Yet until Friday of this week, when it becomes part of Hollywood's continuing question as to how it feels about Netflix, most audiences couldn't see it. It's also, possibly, not for all audiences - not just because it's PG - but because there are those out there for whom words like 'winsome' and 'endearing' and 'Pinterest' (not, carefully, Pinteresque) are immediate turn-offs. I have a standing joke with my editors that no film festival is complete unless I (bookish, beardish, somewhat blokish) have been sent to review a coming of age story with a young female protagonist. I quite enjoy them, truth be told, especially when they are crafted as well as this. That said, they're best when there's more going on - it's hard to retain a sense of wonder into adulthood, and Unicorn Story manages to do just that. Yet where it's inspirational, aspirational, some will find it cloying, and it feels almost a cop-out to say that it's not for them.

Except I don't think it is - I think that there's scale and scope in the industry to make films that only some people will like. I know people who adore Jupiter Ascending, who've been cold on the MCU until Talos appeared on screen, and there has to be a space for that kind of joy, for that kind of fun. If, and this is the only real test, you'd like to see a film where Samuel L Jackson sets someone tasks to prove that they are worthy to acquire a unicorn while trying to thread the line between twee and tweed tedium then queue this one up. It's not the labours of Hercules. It's not The Turin Horse. It is, however, lovely - and there will be someone, many, out there who will love it. If you've a favourite glitter, rainbows in your hair, if you've sprinkled sparkles or sparkled sprinkles then set your course for this imaginary horse. If you'd rather hang your hat from a different peg, a sustainable plan would be to see something else. You'd be missing something magical.

Reviewed on: 03 Apr 2019
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Unicorn Store packshot
A unicorn-obsessed woman meets a salesman who claims he can supply her with one of her own if she fulfils a series of chores.

Festivals:

EIFF 2018

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