Netflix's Unicorn Store Review
Is Larson still stuck in the 90s?
Buried since 2017 then unceremoniously but conveniently dumped on Netflix in the wake of Captain Marvel, Unicorn Store is a car crash of a directorial debut for Brie Larson.It's an odd choice for a debut, to say the least, with the 29 year old star - just 27 at the time of production - securing the opportunity to direct a film off the back of her Oscar success in Room. More curious is the fact that five years earlier, she unsuccessfully auditioned for the lead role, back when it was a comedy project for Rebel Wilson. Larson's choices in the film are dubious at best - her performance proving charming enough, but almost everything else failing to gel, from the supporting players to, perhaps most importantly, the slight and distinctly antiquated script.
Larson's choices in the film are dubious at best - her performance proving charming enough, but almost everything else failing to gel
A story which may have found a home had it been set in - and made in - the 90s, Unicorn Store follows a young woman called Kit who has never really had the inclination to bother growing up, finding her colourful artist dreams dashed, and moving back in with her parents who push her to look for some new direction. A temp agency proves an unsurprisingly inadequate choice, leaving Kit leered at by her boss but finding the arrival of a mysterious letter inviting her to a very unique store may well provide the answers to her dreams.
Without Larson, Kit would have proven a really vapid, narcissistic protagonist, such a head-in-the-clouds dreamer that she would make for an excellent female counterpoint to the quintessential 90s male stoner roles. The Oscar-winning actress manages to somehow make her modestly charming, despite the head-scratching writing behind the part; an ironic precursor to her Captain Marvel role, Larson similarly has to play complete fish out of water here, only with little substantial reason as to why she's a wondrously naive woman-child. This Kimmy Schmidt-style character may have just about worked but there's a whole lot of socio-political commentary going on in the background - almost all of which is unsurprisingly pointed at men - which feels so utterly contrived and distinctly antiquated that it leaves pretty much everybody else in the film, for the most part, feeling like a one-dimensional 90s cliche.
This isn't a post-Captain Marvel reunion for Larson and Samuel L. Jackson, as the film was actually shot three years ago, long before that pairing, and marks but one of four collaborations between the two - and easily the worst. Jackson goes big for his larger-than-life role, which could have been played by anyone (Dustin Hoffman comes to mind), and is perhaps the only male cast member whose character isn't put through the wringer by the film's determination to prove that every woman is an innocent little put-upon victim of this universally misogynistic world of emotionless neanderthals (the vacuum sales pitch is painfully anti-male - what 2019 advert would sell vacuum cleaners with a 'bikini body' woman behind them?). If there's one thing Unicorn Store does prove, it's that sexism doesn't go both ways; if the roles had been reversed, and women had been portrayed in such a disparaging light for not allowing a vacant male artist from 'shining', the filmmakers behind this would have been lynched on social media.
Ironically it may have been better if this had been released straight-to-DVD back when it was made; three years later nobody would have cared
Visually, Larson hardly distinguishes Unicorn Store with a distinctive style, but that said it also doesn't really look like just another Netflix movie - although that's arguably because it isn't. Shot in 2016, it was clearly supposed to be her next big thing after Room, but there's no way of avoiding the clear-as-day fact that it was buried until there was a more suitable time for deployment, which came thanks to her blockbuster success in Captain Marvel.
Off the back of that billion dollar beast, they could easily deliver it - via Netflix - to home audiences who could be forgiven for reading the tagline of "Brie Larson reunites with her Captain Marvel co-star Samuel L Jackson" and having expectations of at least some of the chemistry they had there. Ironically, it may have been better if this had been released straight-to-DVD back when it was made; three years later nobody would have cared - instead this flawed, misguided and outdated flick is hardly the auspicious directorial debut that we could have hoped for from the outspoken young star.
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