During the early parts of Captain Marvel, Brie Larson's character has induced amnesia. After seeing her feature-length directorial debut Unicorn Store, I'd like to formally request the Kree Starforce gimme a little hit offa that.
For much of Unicorn Store I squirmed in discomfort, overcome by an onslaught of full-body cringe. I wondered if I was being too harsh. Was the fact that this had big stars and a push from mega-streamer Netflix igniting some long-cooled anti-establishment furnace in me? If this were from a group of unknowns playing at a mid-level film festival, would I be more likely to say "it's quirky, it's cute!"?
After some soul-searching (and believe me, my emotional return from the inky abyss of this dreadful movie caused a good deal of soul-searching), I can honestly report "no." I don't have any beef with Brie Larson. (I cheered her Oscar win in Room, I swear!) It's just that this movie — THIS FRIGGIN' MOVIE — is just about the most annoying thing I've ever seen.
Of course, it rolls the dice on being annoying. Brie's woman-child character Kit (age 29, though she behaves like she's 10) is an art-school dropout who sleeps all day on her parents' couch and doesn't understand why the world won't just let her dream about rainbow kittens all day. She hates eating vegetables, she has never had a friend, and has zero interest in romance. This behavior — at least so I think — is not intended as any reflection of a real psychological condition. She's just too spirited for this world. We are supposed to be rooting for her.
One day she gets an office temp job and there's some fish-out-of-water business. Can a girl with her head in the clouds and sparkles all over her notebook fit in corporate America??? No way! She is jUsT tOo RaNdOm.
Her responsibilities are mostly xeroxing magazines, then one day she meets the company VP (Hamish Linklater) who is a space cadet in his own way. At first he's funny. No, wait, he's actually a creeper and he's sexually harassing her. But she doesn't notice? Or does she? Is any of this set in the real world? The tone of this movie is impossible to pin down. One minute it is (allegedly) funny, with Kit's parents (Bradley Whitford and Joan Cusack) as touchy-feely life coaches. Then it gets serious about, I dunno, believing in yourself or something.
As soon as Kit starts her new job she finds notes inviting her to "the store," and she ends up in an elaborately decorated emporium where Samuel L. Jackson is chomping up scenery and delivering lines in that "I'm-hearing-them-for-the-first-time" style he sometimes has. He's summoned her. The store sells unicorns, Kit's most favorite animal evarrr, and now it's time for her to get one.
But in order to buy a unicorn, one must first pass certain requirements. Top of the list is building an agreeable unicorn dwelling, which involves Kit acting wacky in a hardware store and meeting Virgil (Mamoudou Athie), who seems put on this earth to help Kit achieve her dreams.
A lot of this movie involves, like, finding the right kind of wood and drills. It's similar to how Phantom Menace spends forever watching Qui-Gon Jinn search for replacement parts. But building a unicorn pen helps Kit find herself, and also empowers her to give a great presentation at work. This involves vacuum cleaners and throwing glitter all over the place, and concludes with the terrifying line "we are all just looking for happiness, and maybe if we are lucky we can buy it in a store."
Larson's performance goes for broad comedy one minute (which, admittedly, sometimes lands, like the gag about her old art professor as "the first artist to ever put a stick in a box") then switches to the emotional plastic-bag-in-the-wind vibe the next. For something imbued with the spirit of a Lisa Frank sticker collection, there is very little visual dynamism on display. Some of the costumes and props have some pop, but nothing interesting happens with the camera.
The adult-child character is a difficult one to get right. But what's particularly aggravating about Unicorn Store is that I can't for the life of me think of who this movie is for (certainly Not for Me, as you can tell from the above). But it isn't fantastic enough for kids, and adults, apart for those who are devoted Larson-ites, are likely to find the whole escapade obnoxious. To nail something with this level of whimsy is kind of like finding a unicorn.
Unicorn Store is now streaming on Netflix.
Jordan Hoffman is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, whose work has appeared in The Guardian, VanityFair.com, amNewYork, Thrillist and Times of Israel.