By Leah Greenblatt
April 04, 2019 at 07:14 PM EDT
Netflix

At 29, Brie Larsen already has an Oscar and a superhero blockbuster under her shiny red belt, which gives her the show-business capital to do pretty much whatever she wants.

And what she wanted, apparently, was to direct and star in a movie about a lonely young woman who believes she’s getting her own unicorn. The result is a candy-coated, willfully quirky wisp of a film; like a Michel Gondry fantasy dipped in glitter and rainbow sprinkles.

Larson is Kit — a failure at art school, a failure at dating, a failure at adulting in general; she’d rather live in her childlike world of Care Bears and hair ribbons than face the cold reality of her grownup future.

Her loving but puzzled parents (Bradley Whitford and Joan Cusack) don’t really know what to do with her; they’re hopeful, though, when she signs up for a temp agency, and lands at an anonymous corporation straight out of Office Space. Her job is mostly to make copies, though her boss (Hamish Linklater, a sort of slow-blinking loris in human form) takes an immediate, if not exactly professional interest in her, which only helps to alienate her new coworkers.

Kit is distracted, anyway, by the personalized cards that somehow keep finding her; invitations to come shop at a supernatural shop that’s like a Rorschach blot for her heart’s desires. When she finally goes, the store’s lone, zoot-suited salesman (Larson’s Captain Marvel costar Samuel L. Jackson) has a promise for her: If she builds it (a paddock, a pile of hay, a better relationship with her parents), it will come — the unicorn she’s always dreamed of.

It’s hard to get a real read on who Kit is supposed to be. Sometimes she’s dry-witted and cuttingly self-aware; other times, she’s so childlike it almost seems like a pathology. Cusack and Whitford are reliably great; Jackson’s lends his salesman a loony sort of Willy Wonka menace, and The Get Down’s Mamoudou Athie brings a gentle humanity to the role of the nonplussed hardware-store employee Kit pulls into her orbit.

When it’s not wearing its tweeness like an oversized set of Garanimals, Unicorn is actually pretty charming, and even affectingly melancholy about the ugly compromises of adulthood; it’s just not entirely clear why Larson was burning to put a horn on this horse, and ride it so far. B

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