While much of the buzz out of Toronto this year was surrounding the independent directorial debut of Greta Gerwig with Lady Bird, there was another young female first time filmmaker quietly getting on with things in the background, as the Oscar-winning Brie Larson marks her debut endeavour from behind the lens with the enchanting, charming comedy Unicorn Store.
The film opens with home footage of Larson as a young girl, drawing unicorns on her wall. It’s evidently a passion that never truly died, now informing her career as she plays Kit, a twentysomething coming to the uncomfortable realisation that it may just be time to grow up. Her parents Gladys (Joan Cusack) and Gene (Bradley Whitford) have done all the subtle nudging they can muster, but now Kit must find her own path – and she takes on a job as a photocopier as a PR agency.
Finding herself under the watchful eye (and hands) of her socially awkward boss Gary (Hamish Linklater), she dreams of something bigger, as a woman who thrives in the notion of spontaneity, not mundanity. Until one day she receives a mysterious letter in the post, informing her that she’s the rightful owner of a Unicorn, she just needs to claim it, and prove she’s got the right environment set up to care for it. So heads to this elusive, hidden away store and meets the salesman (Samuel L. Jackson), and things start to get very weird – very quickly.
Unicorn Store is studying an age group we see examined much more commonly in cinema these days, of that tumultuous, indifferent period of your life where you’re still considered young and free of too much responsibility, but at the same time you’re not the teenager you once were, unable to get away with the things you used to. Gerwig did a fine job in portraying this notion in Frances Ha, except her whimsicality can be deemed pretentious in parts; perhaps the sort of person who would enjoy a crushed up avocado and flat white for breakfast (which is a tasty way to start the day, to be fair). But there’s a sense of self-deprecation where Unicorn Store is concerned, Kit is immensely unpopular and completely unaware how to function in a normal society, and in turn she makes for a far more endearing lead – and this enriches the viewer’s experience dramatically, as we have somebody to truly root for. That being said, she’s so relatable and likeable, that, and much like Emma Stone in Easy A – it’s rather difficult to believe she’d have so few, if any friends.
The film does lose its way somewhat as well, as the opening act has this monotone means of communication, almost Napoleon Dynamie-esque in its execution, and the representation of the archetypal 9-5 career is hilarious in parts, and we affectionately scrutinise over the monotony that exists, and the personalities from within. But as the film grows more surreal it does lose some of that charm, and certainly some of the humour – albeit a vital narrative device, you do crave some more realism in parts, for that’s where the film thrives.
Conversely, what the injection of surrealism does do, is provide an edge to proceedings, for this free-spirited, clumsy protagonist suddenly takes on a new form. Perhaps she’s actually losing her mind, as we realise that this unicorn may well be a figment of her imagination. The only way to find out is to stick it out until the bitter end – though where this enjoyable feature is concerned, that’s not difficult in the slightest.