Unicorn Store Review (Film, 2019)
Kit is not happy. She fails out of art school, moves back in with her overly protective parents, and winds up taking on a temp job to reclaim any sense of respect from the world. Her dreams have always been considered unrealistic but no one bothered to tell her until she faced her first big failure. Yet somehow, the oldest dream she ever had returns in a big way. Kit receives an invitation to a place called The Store that only sells one item: unicorns. Once she proves herself capable of caring for a unicorn, she’ll have a friend for life.
Unicorn Store is a mixed bag of a film, for sure. It’s magical realism, coming of age, self-deprecating comedy, and romance rolled up in one. Brie Larson doesn’t quite nail the balance between all the elements in her directorial debut, but she does craft a charming little fantasy film with a clear theme.
Kit fails at her dreams not because she is a failure, but because we all fail throughout our lives. Kit’s failures are specific. Her Instagram aesthetic art with pastels and glitter (the film technically hit the festival circuit two years ago, around the peak of unicorn/mermaid/galaxy art accounts) fails to impress her professors or her parents. It’s abstract art, but too cute to be treated with respect by her professors. We’re meant to relate to Kit’s free spirit, as she literally refuses to color inside the lines and paints the gallery wall and her canvas in the piece that gets her kicked out of school. Her parents try to reassure her, but don’t understand Kit’s vision, either, so everything they say in the wake of failure is like a knife to the heart.
Samantha McIntyre’s screenplay is propelled by coincidences. Kit spends a day laying on the couch watching TV. Every show, every commercial, and every channel has a direct connection to what she is feeling or experiencing in her life. The decision to work for a temp agency is spur of the moment, inspired by a commercial where someone says they were tired of laying on the couch doing nothing when they thought their life was over. These coincidences play out like some greater force is really obsessed with Amelie and wants to create a magical adventure of whimsy and gentle life lessons for Kit. Everyone Kit encounters is also hiding their own experience with failure and unhappiness, though they have long since abandoned their own dreams for what the world expects success as an adult to look like. Kit’s quest to get her unicorn slowly transforms her own life and the lives of everyone around her.
Unicorn Store does manage to balance a hopeful message with a pretty realistic look at depression. Kit is not a manic pixie dream girl switching between fits of screaming, laughter, and tears like Silver Linings Playbook (the name alone causes my blood to boil). Kit is a sensitive person fighting through a period of numbness where everyone she knows is offering advice to make her feel better. She goes through all the motions of every day life to keep people around her from being upset even though she herself isn’t really experiencing all of that. She’s prone to bursts of anger and random creative impulses that further confuse the people worried that she’s not really as well as she swears she is.
Get a job. Find a boyfriend. Try exercise. Just talk us. Move on. These are all things that well-meaning people offer as suggestions to someone really going through it. They’re far more specific to Kit’s story, but they’re all shown. The interesting wrinkle that made Unicorn Store work so well for me is that Kit actually tries all of this advice throughout the film. She also follows an elaborate step by step plan to bring a real unicorn into her life, so she’s very open to any suggestion that will make her feel like the person she’s meant to be again. The relative success of failure of anyone’s advice or instruction is directly connected to Kit’s ability, in the moment, to actually understand and feel connected to the world around her.
Unicorn Store is a light piece of entertainment. It moves quickly, has plenty of laughs, and only uses failure and the suggestion of depression as a jumping off point for a sweet and charming story. It’s comfort food cinema.
Unicorn Store is currently streaming on Netflix.