“Unicorn Store” is whimsical fun

TMN film critic Gordon McPherson gives “Unicorn Store” 3.5/5 vacuums. 

Brie Larson’s quirky directorial debut “Unicorn Store” is entertaining, albeit decently cringeworthy.

The film centers around Kit, played by Larson, a glitter-obsessed art school dropout who lives with her puzzled parents, played by Bradley Whitford and Joan Cusack, and rejects expectations of office-confined, financially stable adulthood. Kit’s vibrant artwork isn’t much appreciated, and neither is her lifelong dream of having her own pet unicorn. After being hired at an advertising temp agency and encountering a walking #MeToo red flag played by Hamish Linklater, Kit begins receiving bizarre messages inviting her to “The Store” (spooky!). Kit eventually goes down the rabbit hole, finding a streamer-laden Samuel L. Jackson in a bright pink suit.

“The Salesman,” as he’s called, offers Kit the opportunity to realize her dream of owning an actual unicorn if she follows specific adult responsibilities (including having positive relationships with others). Along the way, Kit also sparks up a romance with a lonely, deadpan hardware store employee named Virgil, played by Mamoudou Athie, and realizes the importance of staying true to herself in a world drained of rainbows and creativity.

Sounds precious, right? Absolutely. But “Unicorn Store” might be the antidote we need for group work-induced pessimism. The film is unapologetically heavy-handed, cheesy and predictable, but it has an irresistible warmth that sustained my interest over its brief 92-minute runtime.

Much of the film’s charm comes from Larson herself. Despite Kit’s naive, occasionally irritating personality and questionable attire, Larson infuses Kit with enough depth and youthful energy to make her an endearing protagonist, one that artistic viewers can latch onto. No, I’m not a huge fan of abstract artwork, or unicorns for that matter, but Kit’s aspirations are all too relatable. The concept of sacrificing our true selves and passions for society’s harsh reality is quite relevant. Fortunately, “Unicorn Store” says we shouldn’t give up our passions (unless they’re racist or murderous), rather, they can go hand-in-hand with adulthood.

This bubbly message is paired with equally upbeat performances by the rest of the cast. Jackson, as expected, gives an entertaining performance that largely overshadows aspects of his character which play into a racially-charged trope. Athie stands out as Virgil, performing with enough nuance to make his stilted dialogue almost excusable.

Larson also directs “Unicorn Store” with a surprising amount of flair, effectively using color and lighting to convey Kit’s whimsical personality and the film’s near-fantastical nature.

And boy oh boy, does “Unicorn Store” get weird. I watched much of “Unicorn Store” with a sense of befuddlement, sometimes even shock. A vacuum-selling presentation, complete with confetti and cringeworthy dancing, has been imprinted in my psyche, as has an intense monologue where Jackson exclaims “Jeez Louise!” at the end of his tirade. Whether or not viewers laugh with the film or at it depends on viewers’ tolerance for sentimental whimsy — “Cold War” fans beware.

Possibly the biggest cinematic surprise of 2019 so far, “Unicorn Store” is a casually enjoyable film with an optimistic aftertaste, and I needed that for once.