Actress Brie Larson is now well-known as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But before joining the MCU, Larson achieved high success in previous films such as the 2017 blockbuster “Kong: Skull Island” and the 2015 independent drama “Room,” which earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress. While working in the industry as an actress, Larson has slowly built up her prowess through co-directing several indie short films leading to her directorial debut in the 2019 Netflix-released fantasy comedy-drama “Unicorn Store.”
“Unicorn Store” stars Larson herself as the main protagonist Kit, an aspiring artist at a standstill after failing out of art school, forced to move back in with her parents and start over. As she takes a temp-job with a marketing firm, she receives notes inviting her to a mysterious store to meet a salesman (Samuel L. Jackson) that claims to sell exactly what she needs, a unicorn.
The concept matches the tone of the story. The bright visuals combined with the wacky characters and childish plot thirsts for something to either bring the film closer or further from reality. The film dances on the line and leaves audiences questioning what kind of story is being told. In the end, the film leans into the fantasy and stretches logic in favor of the titular plot device, clearly deciding what the message is with no room for interpretation.
The saving grace for the project is in the liberty taken by the cast. As the director, Larson had complete creative control over most aspects of the film. The best choices were made in casting. For most, the film’s lead and supporting actor are enough to reel in attention.
As an actress, Larson excels with the right script and direction. And as the director, Larson’s casting of herself in the lead allowed her envisioned portrayal of Kit to shine through in the film. Many movies throughout film history have had success with a star also helming the project as the director. Being both the star and the director enabled Larson to make creative decisions for the character and better express them through the performance.
Larson’s costar, Samuel L. Jackson, was cast during the filming of “Kong: Skull Island” where the two appeared together for the first time in a live-action project. Larson and Jackson bonded together on the set, leading to the casting of Larson in the titular role of “Captain Marvel.”
In the context of the MCU, it only made sense for the two characters to meet. That it would be Larson and Jackson, however, was not a coincidence. The chemistry that formed from the “Kong: Skull Island” filming carried on into the MCU’s Carol Danvers and Nick Fury, an intentional casting choice and pairing. The same pairing was realized in “Unicorn Store” where Jackson was cast in the extravagant role of The Salesman.
Though the two share fun and friendly chemistry in both “Captain Marvel” and “Unicorn Store,” there are clear differences in the versatility of their acting. The MCU is known to have a static brand, a more clearly defined style of humor and action, something that Jackson is able to portray with ease. Because of the uniform narrative structure of “Captain Marvel” and the directors’ (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck) inexperience in the genre, the performance of Larson is less vibrant. Carol Danvers as an individual is only successfully characterized by Jackson’s role as Fury, which was used to humanize Danvers and add comedic situations.
As an original screenplay under the direction of Larson, “Unicorn Store” is not burdened by the same fundamental issues that affect “Captain Marvel.” In fact, Larson’s creative control enables a better performance individually, while Jackson’s role still supports and enriches her performance. Kit is expressive and likable without external help. As a duo should, both parts work equally to achieve its intended result.
“Captain Marvel” didn’t allow for both parts to work equally but relied on Jackson’s performance a bit more. Perhaps a potential fourth live-action appearance of the duo in the sequel film to “Captain Marvel” could field Larson as the director and she could perform better as a result.