Brie Larson Taps Into Millennial Anxieties in Her Whimsical Directorial Debut ‘Unicorn Store’

Brie Larson, one of the more accomplished actresses of her generation, tackles some of the unique challenges faced by millennials with her directorial debut in Netflix’s “Unicorn Store.” As one can surmise from the title, Larson’s film is a rather whimsical tale, and she herself stars as Kit, a woman in her late twenties who is left to pick up the pieces after failing out of art school, as her shimmering, colorful unicorn painting fails to impress her pompous professors. Before she knows it, Kit is back at her childhood home, wallowing in self-pity. In an ironic twist, her parents (Joan Cusack, Bradley Whitford), who run a camp for troubled kids, feel helpless when it comes to their daughter, who apparently has a unicorn-shaped hole in her life, and it’s going to take more than a little glitter and paint to fix things.

In an effort to give adulting a try, Kit takes on a temp position at a public relations company. A lot of humor comes from her masquerade here, as he dons her mother’s conservative suit and forces herself to enjoy coffee for the first time. Larson and writer Samantha McIntyre do a great job here of satirizing office culture. As the new girl in the office, Kit attracts some attention, particularly from VP Gary (Hamish Linklater), who feigns an interest in her in order to get close enough to her to sniff her hair. Kit, whose behavior strikes viewers as naive, endearing, or both, takes Gary seriously when he suggests that she develop a pitch for their latest campaign, as she seems ignorant of any nefarious intentions on his part.

But what really motivates Kit is the possibility of owning an unicorn. While at her office job, she receives a Harry Potter-esque invite to a mysterious store. Samuel L. Jackson channels Willy Wonka for his role as The Salesman, a cheery man in a pink suit who greets Kit at this establishment that only sells one thing, unicorns. However, to acquire one, she first has to prove herself worthy. Larson lights up as Kit becomes excited and truly motivated about something for the first time since her art school fiasco. Her pitch at work is part of her journey to unicorn ownership, as is her quest to build a stable in her parents’ backyard. She hires a local hardware store employee, Virgil (a charming Mamoudou Athie), to assist her with the latter task, forming a bond with him in the process.

What “Unicorn Store” does well is shed light on the unique anxieties of the millennial generation, a group who grew up being told they could achieve anything if they work hard enough and have passion. Disappointed by life, Kit’s fixation on the unicorn is a form of escape. The sweet and easygoing Virgil serves as something of a teether to reality, and he helps Kit reframe what happened to her—Even if she isn’t a success by the standards of society, she’s created a body of artwork for which she should be proud. The metaphor involving the unicorn is a bit muddled, but Kits inspires as she ultimately learns how to let go of the past while still staying true to herself.

While “Unicorn Store” will resonate with many in their late twenties/early thirties, it particularly speaks to women, who will mostly no doubt relate to not only Kit’s love of girly things, but also to her experiences as a woman struggling to be taken seriously, not only by her creepy male boss and pretentious professor, but also by other women who see her as a threat. Martha MacIsaac brings warmth and laughs to the office scenes as Sabrina, a young woman who in many ways is like Kit, except that she lets excessive anxiety hold her back. It is her who delivers one of the most memorable lines, delivered during Kit’s pitch—”I would vacuum up fear.”

Unicorn Store” begins streaming April 5 on Netflix.