Brie Larson tackles sexual harassment, still has unicorns
Film is sweet and funny, but takes on some serious issues
Brie Larson may have decked her directorial debut, Unicorn Store, in rainbows, glitter and tulle, but there are serious issues afoot in her tale of a directionally paralyzed twentysomething.
The film, which screened at Toronto International Film Festival, follows Kit (Larson), an artist whose fanciful, sparkly paintings earn her derision at an art school that promptly kicks her out. Directionless and moored to her parents’ couch, Kit decides to grab life by her mother’s borrowed skirt suit and try out a temp job at a PR firm.
Resigned to a mundane maze of cubicles and copy machines, Kit begins receiving mysterious invitations to “the store,” which, manned by an eccentric shopkeeper (Samuel L. Jackson), turns out to sell the one thing her childlike heart has always desired most: real unicorns.
Threaded into the fanciful tale are colder realities of traps that often target young women, including scenes in which the company’s vice president steps in too close, sniffs Kit’s hair and corners her for a private lunch.
At a Q&A, an audience member asked Larson about those micro-aggressions, questioning her decision to “underplay what could be viewed as sexual harassment in the workplace.”
Larson politely disagreed, citing her own experience in Hollywood.
“Personally, I don’t feel like the sexual harassment stuff is lightly played,” said the future Captain
Marvel. “I think it’s pretty strongly there. But I do think that Kit’s unawareness of it at times or confusion with it is because I truly have experienced that on a lot of sets. Where you’re like, ‘Am I supposed to take this as a compliment? Is this how I’m supposed to be talked to?’ As a woman, I’ve always had this question of, this feeling like, ‘Well, I’m not pretty enough for them to do that to me.’ ”
The actress, a longtime activist for sexual assault survivors, drove home how murky the waters in the workplace can be. “It’s so confusing. Because in reality, say (Kit) went to HR, and was like, ‘He’s giving me a problem.’ What would she say? He smelled my hair? There’s nothing that she can say that (proves) he actually crossed a line.
“But we all watch it and we go, ‘Whoa, he’s crossing a line.’ And I felt like that was an important thing to put in a film. That it doesn’t have to be so forceful. Sexual harassment is way subtler and weirder and it’s a bigger gray area.”
In total, the sweet and slightly twee Unicorn Store successfully showed a strong comedic side of Larson, who told USA TODAY in August that she’d sought out lighter fare after a string of somber dramas.
“I’ve had a really nice run with drama, but I wanted to do something that would inspire me and restore my faith and allow me to laugh on set all day.”
In Unicorn Store, Brie Larson plays Kit, an artist who dreams of owning a real unicorn. Larson also directed the film.