Photo: George Pimentel
Brie Larson on her directorial debut, Unicorn Store
Long before Brie Larson won an Academy Award for her performance in Room, she auditioned for a movie about a unicorn-obsessed dreamer. She didn’t get the part, and the production stalled. Five years later, she’s not only starring in that film—Unicorn Store—she directed it as well.
Premiering at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Next Wave line-up, Unicorn Store is Larson’s feature directorial debut, and finds the 27-year-old exploring a theme she’s passionate about: the importance of being childish.
“What’s available to us at all times is childlike play and innocence, even in the face of things that are scary,” said Larson at a TIFF 2017 roundtable held by Nespresso Canada. “The experience of making this movie wasn’t so much about, ‘How am I going to get through crying for eight hours today?’ and instead was, ‘Who can make each other laugh the most today?'”
In the film, Larson plays Kit, an art school dropout with a childlike worldview. When her camp counsellor parents (played by Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford) pressure her to embrace adulthood, she takes a job as a temp at an ad agency. One day, she begins receiving invitations to a magical pop-up store owned by an enigmatic salesman (Samuel L. Jackson), who tells her she’ll get her own unicorn if she completes a series of tasks.
“When I read the script, I knew I had to do it,” said 2017 TIFF Rising Star Mamoudou Athie, who plays Kit’s friend Virgil in the film. “There aren’t a lot of movies this openhearted, this beautifully earnest and told from the point of view of a character like Kit.”
Described by Larson as “aggressively positive,” Unicorn Store is packed with glittering, rainbow-hued visuals, down to the sparkling tinsel adorning Jackson’s hair. Every frame of Unicorn Store, she said, contains imagery that she finds meaningful.
“I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to make a film that’s extremely feminine and soft, and I’m going to ask men to take a step forward and enter my space,'” said Larson. “I’ve entered their space for most of my life; they can take a step in mine.”
One-third of the films selected for TIFF this year are directed by women—an important step in the festival’s promotion of gender parity.
“As a person who identifies as a woman in this world, I am asked a lot, ‘How do you feel about proving yourself as a female director?'” she said. “Now I’m at this point where I’m like, ‘Women have been proving it for a really, really long time.'”