The beauty of running my own website is that I can call the shots whenever. So Netflix has accrued the distribution rights for a little film called Unicorn Store: the feature length debut by Brie Larson (who has worked with short films before). For a lot of people, this little project came out of nowhere. For festival circuit junkies, this is a familiar film that has been without a home since — wait for it — 2017. That is usually not a good sign. Neither is the recent mediocre aggregate rating by critics, and the scathing IMDb score by users (last time I checked, it was 3.6/10).
Look. I am not going to claim this is a masterpiece. Since I have the floor here, I’m just going to say that this super flawed film is still being beaten down way too much. I think the reason why this weird premise (an adult that cannot fully integrate with society, and dreams of childish ambitions, including owning a unicorn) works with me and maybe not many other people my age is because I, too, am a child at heart. At nearly 30 years old, I still play many video games from my childhood (including edutainment titles) as a means of relaxation. There’s something about revisiting my youth that makes all of the trials an adult has to face easier. We all have that luxury, too (if we choose to). I feel like I have always been too geriatric and youthful for my age (no matter what age that may be). With that in mind, Unicorn Store makes sense.
What’s the problem many people are facing? Well, since this film is catered towards adults that are in tune with their inner child, it becomes a demographic mess for everyone else. There is swearing, so it’s definitely not for children. The film is basic in nature, and anchored by whimsy, so it’s not exactly for adults. This is also clearly an adult stuck in a rut about being a child, so teenagers may be out of the loop, too. If you find yourself wanting to be a part of a strict demographic, Unicorn Store can be a bit befuddling. There is also the amount of suspension of disbelief required. A magical store appears, and Samuel L. Jackson runs things there. A unicorn is up for grabs, but the to-be-owner has to fulfill a series of requirements for the fantasy horse to live (including building a shed and getting the proper food supplies).
When things progress a little bit, we get into some open ended territories. Why does the store disappear? How exactly does it operate? Well, like many of the films of our past (Matilda, The Neverending Story, ET), a certain level of trust has to exist to make this film work. Most of it is hinged by Larson’s faith in her dreams coming true (both as a filmmaker, and the character she is directing). The one noticeable difference is that Unicorn Store is not one of those other films, which get by with many inspirational assets (special effects, key performances, and more). However, this is clearly the kind of film Larson is making for adults, and this writer got that.
Netflix seems like the perfect distributor for this film. It’s the kind of flick you put on, enjoy, and kind of just reflect on occasionally forever. There definitely isn’t enough substance to make this linger (like an ET would), but I don’t think that was Larson’s point. This is a relatively inoffensive attempt to deliver the cinematic wonder we experienced as kids when we first discovered the greatest works of all time (at that time). This isn’t a replacement of those films, but it’s just a replication. There might be some questionable jokes and swears, but otherwise it’s just a cutesy film that just wants to spend an hour and a half with you. That’s all.
I don’t honestly see how that warrants a brutal review. Mediocracy, I can understand. Unicorn Store does not drive me insane like The Dirt did. Otherwise, not much about it is painful at all. It’s just harmless, passive and colourful; like an arts and crafts hour you can either take part in or not. The only way to know if Unicorn Store is your vacation back to your childhood (or not) is to give it a shot. I’m sure there are much worse films that we’ve all wasted time on compared to this one. Even if you don’t like it, at least you can acknowledge its commitment to Lisa Frank’s aesthetic, right?
It didn’t get a distributor for ages, because its audience is so niche. It took a Captain Marvel for Unicorn Store to get picked up. Now that there is access to this film, I’m sure the tiny (but existent) audience will show up for this one, and may even shine for longer than the immediate hostility Unicorn Store is currently experiencing.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.