In a fit of justified pique last week, Netflix clapped back at an online troll denouncing the work of actress Brie Larson. The streaming giant went on to list her credits, her Oscar nomination and win, and her directorial debut, Unicorn Store. This is just one of several moments wherein male commenters or critics have taken Larson to task specifically. Last year, when Unicorn Store started making the rounds, it was savaged by a predominately male critic base, continuing the trend of movies being judged on gender lines.
Unicorn Store is a film that will appeal particularly to young women without necessarily excluding men. The movie follows Kit (Larson), a painter who can't seem to catch a break. She loves fantasy and whimsy but at this point she can't help but feel she's a disappointment to the people she loves. Determined to finally grow up she receives an invitation to "The Store," where a mysterious shopkeeper (Samuel L. Jackson) offers her what she's always wanted: her own unicorn. But in order to obtain the mythical creature Kit must make her home "worthy" of a unicorn. Thus begins Kit's quest, not just to make her dreams come true but to finally discover where she belongs.
What Larson examines in her movie is boldly stated in the trailer: just because you're an adult doesn't mean you need to put away childish things. Kit isn't infantile, she's a dreamer. She wants to be creative and have fun at her job, but she's well aware that doesn't pay the bills. In fact, it leads her back to living with her parents (charmingly played by Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford) and constantly being undermined by the ever-so perfect Kevin (Karan Soni).
Kit's career woes feel specific to women, who oftentimes feel their accomplishments aren't good enough, especially in comparison to men in the same field. In this case, the rivalry between Kit and Kevin comes from the fact that Kevin is obviously not a know-it-all ⏤ him putting together a tent proves futile ⏤ he's just able to hide his flaws better through a heavy dose of confidence. Screenwriter Samantha McIntyre's script questions why women are often forced into adulthood while men are allowed to find themselves.
McIntyre and Larson also show the strength and power that comes from loving magic. As Kit explains throughout the movie, having a unicorn would be the culmination of everything she's lost, missed out on, or failed at in life. It would be a friend, a companion, an accomplishment. Too often women aren't given the chance to express their disappointment or, if they are, they become bitter. Film history is littered with the stories of women turned shrewish in the wake of things they wanted but never received.
Larson turns Kit into a fully-realized woman burdened by her losses, but refusing to give into them completely. Yes, she shuts people out, including new friend and potential love interest, Virgil (Mamoudou Athie), but that’s only because her childhood weirdness made her feel she was unable to find people who understood her. In fact, her closest friend throughout the film is Jackson’s Salesman. Obviously the two performers have a chemistry together, working on this and Captain Marvel, but here their dynamic is different.
Where Jackson’s Nick Fury in Captain Marvel is unsure what’s happening but finds his footing, he has the upper hand in Unicorn Store. He has something Kit wants and compels her to prove herself or lose it. What’s amazing about Unicorn Store, when it’s all said and done, is that ultimately Kit doesn’t need to prove herself to anyone. She needs to prove to herself that she’s worthy of having friends, of having a life, of growing up and holding on to her sense of magic in the world. She can pitch an idea at work in a way that’s silly and glitter. She can have it all! And that’s something that women are often told is impossible, especially in movies.
It’s possible male critics turned their noses up at Unicorn Store because they don’t understand all the direct nuances this movie showcases about femininity and, more importantly, the society that’s been created to keep women from praising themselves. Unicorn Store won’t set the world on fire, but it reminds women that should appreciate the things they love, no matter how silly they are.
You can stream Unicorn Store on Netflix.