TV-PG, but hold on! TV-PG doesn't mean "PG." Yeah, it's more PG than it is R, but it still has an abundance of language and questionable situations in it. The movie's target audience isn't for kids. It's really a movie for indie hipsters without being bogged down with content. The protagonist asks whether or not she is attractive enough to be sexually harassed. That was a conversation I didn't really want to have with my daughter. TV-PG.
DIRECTOR: Brie Larson
How was this made in 2017? I'm losing my entire sense of time. I thought that Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson got to know each other through Captain Marvel, and like Joss Whedon did with Much Ado About Nothing, threw together a movie. Oh, no! I really wanted that to be the story. Everything else should take a back seat because that's the only scenario I was really prepped for. My wife is always looking for stuff that we can watch as a family that doesn't make the adults want to lose their minds. There are times that this is successful. There are times that are less successful. I have to say, although this is rated TV-PG, the target audience is not families. It is a very indie movie that wears its indie cred on its shoulders. That's not a bad thing. But it also can add a point to the category of Netflix-films-that-I-Won't-Remember-a-Year-From-Now. I'm so sorry, Brie Larson. It's not bad. It just didn't speak to me.
I adore Brie Larson. She's an actress with really knocks it out of the park with her performances. I'm not going to lie, I also like the fact that she calls it like it is. Her devil-may-care attitude is pretty refreshing and she has given me so much ammo against close-minded fanboys. God bless you, Brie Larson. All that being said, Unicorn Store is an example of being just fine when it needed to be way more. I think a lot of it comes from taking the choice that works, but not the choice that is perfect. Independent film sometimes has the reputation of being bare bones. But that doesn't mean that independent film has to look cheap. If I'm going to talk about American independent film, I have to talk about one of the forefathers of independent film: Slacker. Slacker is not my favorite movie. I know, people worship at the feet of Richard Linklater. I have a love/hate relationship with him. But Slacker works for a reason. The world influences the characters. The setting embraces the themes really well. The entire thing is completely unified and it works because of that. Unicorn Store posits something very different. The conceit of the film is that Brie Larson's Kit has something meaningful to say, and no one is really letting her say it. But instead, what happens is that we get the sitcom version of what art really means. It's a film of shortcuts and easy answers. I know that the theme is about growing up and the value of staying both true to yourself as you age out of childish things, but it doesn't accurately sell the value of childhood. Kit had an imaginary unicorn. There's one scene that actually sells it very well. Her discussion with the unicorn vocalizes what the movie should have been about. It should have been about not art, but the idea that one can integrate one's personality into anything that they say or do. I'm going to hit some SPOILERS (I think I need to lean heavy into spoilers sometimes because that's where real analysis happens). Kit has her big moment in front of the board. She has the epiphany that her life shouldn't be split into professional and emotional. But that presentation is hot garbage. It's really bad. The good guy is supposed to be Kit for risking it all and the bad guys were supposed to be the PR firm. I would have reacted the exact same way in those situations. Maybe that's what Larson was shooting for, but she has her team vocalize the important message of the film immediately afterwards. Yeah, that message is great, but I wouldn't trust this product with Brie Larson's character.
I can't get over how cheap this movie looks at times. It's got such a great cast and has a solid theme. But the execution is kind of lacking. I don't know if the movie necessarily gets it own message throughout the film either. There's a scene, which actually might be the funniest scene of the film, where Kit has to make amends with her parents. It's a great idea. She has to do a Circle of Truth (Fun fact: I just hit a wall and want to stop writing this blog forever.) with a group of people who have been infamous lying in this Circle of Truth for as long as they have attended. In this moment, Kit reveals the truth of her plans. Everything that she has been working for has been building up to buying a unicorn that will live with the family. Initially, her parents are flummoxed. Imagine if you were in their position. You would be flummoxed as well. Also, "flummoxed." There, I got it out of my system. But quickly, Kit and her father, played by Bradley Whitford, have an honest conversation. These parents who have been granola eating adulters throughout the film, seem to be good people. Yeah, they are overbearing at times and have a hard time relating to their freewheeling daughter. But Whitford's character exposes the truth of his soul. He reveals that he knows that everything in the circle has been a lie. It doesn't matter to him. He sees the value of every individual in that circle. He's a human being. He may come across as overbearing, but that's just because he's too close to Kit. I think my wife and I are harder on our daughter than we need to be. We have such love for her and such joy when she is succeeding that it is a real bummer when she's playing the fool. And she plays the fool a lot. There's such a fine line between tough love and jerkishness that the movie examines and I adore this scene. It is so vulnerable and great...but it leads to nothing. Kit claims that she hasn't really repaired her relationship with her parents. Kit is meant to be the dynamic protagonist. She's growing, and I think the movie does a solid job of showing her growth. But we are fighting for Kit's cause and she kind of becomes a bad guy in this moment. The unicorn at the beginning of the film is an object of whimsy. We are on board her getting this unicorn because it is the last chance she has from becoming a broken automaton. The unicorn is representative of something far more innocent and unbroken. But in this moment, when Kit's father bears his soul and Kit goes into the next scene unmoved by what was done, completely changes the message of the film. What are we aiming for? What is the goal of this story? The adult world that is free from unicorns and imagination is terrible. Everyone who works for that PR firm (with the exception of Kit's assistant) is completely dead inside. The boss of this company uses women and the women that are used by the boss are catty and hate the new girl. Kit shouldn't dump her personality because of adulthood and we're rooting for that. But then, the childhood is considered something selfish at the moment. I know. I'm presenting a binary / black-and-white fallacy as my argument. But that's because that's what I take away from Unicorn Store. Larson kind of 180s the plot and presents the protagonist as a good guy, regardless. It actually seems to minimize Dad's heartfelt revelation to let the story continue on. There's no moment when Kit shifts and realizes that her father is really trying after that moment. It's a bizarre choice because Larson is emoting in the moment with her father, but then states that she really hasn't done anything to fix their severed relationship. It's only once Kit's mother, played by Joan Cusack, has the drawings that Kit made as a child up that Kit realizes that her parents loved her the entire time. Kit's vulnerable moment is the revelation that she is getting a unicorn. That's a big deal and that's how she fights for her parents. But this moment is completely underscored by the fact that the only thing that saved the family is the fact that Kit's mother never stopped loving her. Kit isn't the one making the sacrifice; her mother is. This might even come down to flipping scenes. Putting the mother conversation first and then the phone call second puts the onus on Kit as opposed to Mom. If the mother sequence happened first, Kit would realize that she hasn't done anything to fix her relationship with her father. When she reveals that she is getting a unicorn, she is then being vulnerable, which in turn, allows Dad to open up about his intentions with the group.
The movie really wanted to be funny. I don't think I ever really laughed. There is a relationship with Virgil that is probably the closest thing to being funny in the movie. I think that Virgil, played by Mamoudou Athie, is absolutely a charming male lead for the film. I like when the film takes the alpha male archetype and spins it on its head. Kit actually verbalizes something that may have been one of my personal misconceptions that I've never thought about before. Virgil works in a hardware store. I like the idea of the hardware store employee that knows nothing about building or construction. I worked at Organized Living, a home decor store, for a period of a few months. It wasn't a fun job and I realized that quickly when I was put in the closet design section. I knew nothing about closet design, nor did anyone teach me about closet design. That has to be a universal idea. Virgil is cute, but I don't really understand his intentions from time-to-time. What is the message that Larson is trying to get across with Virgil? There's a moment where he promises not to freak out. This is Kit's confession to Virgil about the unicorn. The easy joke would have been to have him freak out in the restaurant. He's taken aback a little bit, which I really like. But when he sees that there is no Unicorn Store, he is supportive and treats Kit like a human being. That's great. I adore that. But there's one moment where Kit, once she's come to terms with the fact that the store doesn't exist, receives a phone call from Samuel L. Jackson. (Not the actor, the store owner.) I get that he wants to stop her from getting hurt. This seems like a scam and I get that element. But he becomes ultimatum-y. He gets kind of visibly upset by the whole situation and Kit goes by herself. If he's really concerned about her getting hurt, why doesn't he simply try to go with her and protect her? He ends up in the right place, I get that. But he shifts from being sympathetic towards being duped to demanding that she grow up in that moment. Virgil isn't really grown up. He's a kindred spirit to Kit, so his request that she grows up is really out of character. Even more, this is all for naught because the right answer was that she goes after the unicorn. That's when she discovers what adulthood is. Virgil meets the unicorn. Why make him the barrier to the end of the film? Virgil is almost punished for being a sympathetic character throughout and that's a really weird choice for me.
I didn't like it. The more I think about this movie, the less "fine" it gets and the more I dislike it. Shortcuts bother me. If I think of a better moment than the storytellers do, I tend to really hold it against the movie. There are so many moments that I would have cleaned up and tightened that the movie is kind of spoiled for me. It's not terrible. It's just a long way from being the product that it could have been.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.