Brie Lar­son tack­les sex­ual ha­rass­ment, still has uni­corns

Film is sweet and funny, but takes on some se­ri­ous is­sues

The Signal - - LIFE - An­drea Man­dell @an­drea­man­dell

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.”

COUR­TESY OF TIFF

In Uni­corn Store, Brie Lar­son plays Kit, an artist who dreams of own­ing a real uni­corn. Lar­son also di­rected the film.

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