‘Unicorn Store’ Is Another Black-and-White View of Creativity

Credit: Netflix

By J.D. ECARMA

Kit can’t bring herself to like kale.

Netflix’s “Unicorn Store” starts as your typical not-coming-of-age story: A grown-up child moves back in with the parents because of a setback. For art school failure Kit, kale signifies her parents’ life: schedules, steady jobs, volunteer work and healthy food. Kit is looking for something more colorful, quite literally, as we see when she flunks out of art school for drawing a self-portrait that consists of a unicorn, rainbow colors and a generous splash of glitter.

A Netflix acquisition that is under too much pressure as actress Brie Larson’s directorial debut, “Unicorn Store” was first released in 2017. Larson has been busy since then, enjoying the buzz from her Oscar win for 2015’s “Room” and becoming a household name thanks to her turn as Captain Marvel in the latest superhero flick.

“Unicorn Store” is almost lovable, but its best parts are never quite fleshed out. Kit finds a new love interest in Virgil, played by charming newcomer Mamoudou Athie, but she never really finds herself. The best line in the movie goes to Mom (played by Joan Cusack).

We’re expected to believe that all glitter, all the time is the real Kit because the world of “Unicorn Store” is a curiously rigid one: kale or Cheez-Its, colors or black and gray, rigid schedules or impulse hay bale purchases? “Unicorn Store” sees life in broad strokes, big either-or’s. Life gives you graph paper or Lisa Frank stickers, quinoa and kale or a frosted strawberry Pop-Tart, never both.

Polygon nailed the problem of Kit in its review, noting that “Unicorn Store” feels about a decade too late. We now live in a society that’s post-enlightenment about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, a world where the millennial generation has made kale trendy and romanticized stability because they never had it.

A story about the trap of the American cubicle that comes after “The Office” made ordinary people prime time TV material is never going to ring true for Larson’s generation. We know there’s drudgery to be found in a 9-to-5 work week, but there’s plenty of joy and fun and nonsense and color too. People and creativity are both too complex to fit in this kind of box.

Despite all this, the flaws of “Unicorn Store” could have been forgiven and smoothed over with a simple tweak: rethinking the movie’s audience.

Strangely, my biggest issue with this by turns weird and charming little indie is that … it had language. Every time you forgot you weren’t watching a movie aimed at children or a Hallmark audience, someone cursed and you remembered. “Unicorn Store” is dying to be a quirky, modern fairytale for little girls who love the color pink and collect animal stickers. Why wasn’t it allowed to be itself?

Watching it as a child would have been magical. Watching it as an adult just feels a little wrong.

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