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TIFF Review: Unicorn Store – “lovingly crafted, personal, and charming”

As children, we all had dreams, both attainable and fantasy.  They were what helped fuel our imagination and propelled us forward in life, eventually forming goals, careers, lives.  But, it’s what happens when those dreams fall apart that really shapes us. Brie Larson‘s directorial debut, Unicorn Store, is a story about exactly that.

Kit (Larson) is a twenty something that grew up surrounded by colour – rainbows and unicorns adorning her life.  Her adult life is largely no different.  Thrown out of art school for her presumed lack of talent after her bright colours and glitter turn off the teachers, she returns home, upset and aimless. Her parents, played by Bradley Whitford and Joan Cusack, are encouraging enough – letting her wallow but trying to be positive.

Kit is eventually thrown back into action when an infomercial for a temp agency asks her, “You don’t want to be a great disappointment, do you?” Getting a position at a PR agency complete with a creepy boss, Kit tries her hardest to be “normal” until she starts getting strange cards left for her inviting her to “The Store”.  The Store it seems has everything that you want and need, so she arrives and listens to the words of the unusual shop owner (Samuel L. Jackson – making glitter look good!) who promises one of her biggest fantasies come to life, she just has to be ready for it.  The checklist of preparation sets Kit out to rediscover herself and her dreams.

Unicorn Store has an element of whimsy that you’re required to buy into in order to fully enjoy the film.  But with this cast, it’s not a hard sell.  Larson as the main character is the perfect Kit (despite apparently losing the role in an audition years ago) – quirky while remaining relatable.  She had the double challenge of directing herself in the leading role, yet her performance never falters for the added responsibility. Not surprisingly, Whitford and Cusack as her kale-eating, camp operating parents often steal the show.  The pair’s camaraderie and humour are a wonderful addition.  As the story progresses, Kit makes a new friend in Virgil (Mamoudou Athie) who is perfectly cast to add some stability to the unconventional storyline.

As a director, Larson was able to craft a solid debut.  Using a screenplay from Samantha McIntyre, Larson allowed for all the awkward silences and comedic timing the dialogue required.  Unicorn Store never feels rushed and she lets Kit truly come alive.  The film is not particularly deep, though it has moments of poignancy, however it is certainly never boring.

Brie Larson’s new directorial voice is a welcome addition to the filmmaking world.  This film, while not written by her, seems made for her – hopeful, youthful and bright.  It’s lovingly crafted, personal, and charming.  It’s also easy to see a uniquely female perspective brought to the screen through her vision.  This movie will put a smile on your face while allowing you to reflect on all your dreams, past and present.  It’s also just a lot of fun – because in these times, we can all use a little more magic, and perhaps even a sprinkle of glitter.

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