Movie Review: Carrie Pilby

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By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

Mild Spoilers Ahead

One of the most universal truths in this world is that life is short. The tagline for the film Carrie Pilby says, “Live your life before it passes you by.” But that is just one premise, one relatable aspect of this quirky, charming, thoughtful film that presents so much more. Based on the novel by Caren Lissner, the movie follows a young woman struggling to find her way in the world, retreating into herself, emotionally stunted, highly intelligent, sweet hearted in truth, but sometimes judgmental, frustrated that everyone around her seems to be hypocrites obsessed with sex and severely lacking in morals. Claiming that she’s clearly not “normal” at 19, she’s a Harvard graduate after skipping three grades and entering college at 14. Now she’s in therapy at the insistence of her very absent father who lives in London. Her therapist wants to help her come out of her shell and find some sort of happiness instead of never leaving her apartment and reading at a rate that more than gives Rory Gilmore a run for her money – 17 books in one week! As she remembers and attempts to get over pain from her past and feelings of awkwardness and superiority, Carrie’s journey is one of self-discovery as she meets all different types of people and follows a simple but surprisingly profound list from her doctor: “Go on a date. Make a friend. Spend New Year’s Eve with someone. Get a pet. Do something you loved as a child. Read your favorite book.” This journey is one where she learns to be braver and more open-minded while also staying true to herself and her morals. Carrie Pilby is a breath of fresh air with moments of sweetness and natural comedy, as well as more serious subjects dealt with in a way that is never heavy-handed, and a relatability that is both uplifting and touching. It’s the kind of film there should be more of.

One of Carrie Pilby‘s finest aspects is without a doubt its cast. Nathan Lane conveys such warmth with the same believability he brings to every role he plays. Carrie’s therapist has to be both the catalyst and guide to her journey, pushing and judging without being pushy and judgmental, and Lane more than succeeds. William Moseley is sweet and self-effacing as Carrie’s interesting and kind neighbor; Vanessa Bayer is hilarious as the type of oversexed, enthusiastic woman many of us have known, who deep down is so well-meaning, you can’t help but want to be friends with her; while Jason Ritter wonderfully portrays his character’s awkwardness and “nice guy” persona with that underlying sense of deception and immaturity.

For the two other men and crucial characters in Carrie Pilby, Gabriel Byrne and Colin O’Donoghue are equally fantastic. One of the things I really love is seeing actors who can be both a lead and a supporting player, and portray characters who are vastly different, all with the same authenticity. When I think about two of my favorite roles of Byrne’s, Shipwrecked and Little Women, they could not be more different – a ruthless pirate and a kindly professor, respectively. In Carrie Pilby, he leans more towards the latter as her much absent father, and he balances the contrasts in his character so well. He’s warm and loving but doesn’t always express himself well and hides from the issues with his daughter. But when he resurfaces in Carrie’s life, he provides one of the film’s best and most touching moments.

Much like Byrne, O’Donoghue is continuing to prove to be versatile and believable in many different types of roles, from the dashing rapscallion Captain Hook in Once Upon a Time to the vulnerable and passionate Brennan in The Dust Storm. In Carrie Pilby, O’Donoghue impeccably portrays the kind of man who is charismatic but manipulative with no sense of any redeeming quality, making a karmic moment towards the end (coincidently in a scene also including Byrne) oh so satisfying. Already boasting a wonderfully varied career, I suspect O’Donoghue will continue to shine like fellow Irish actor Byrne in every role he tackles.

Speaking of a great career ahead, the film’s crowning glory is Carrie herself. The film rests on the very capable shoulders of Bel Powley, who is effervescent, witty, sardonic, lovely, vulnerable, and empathetic. You see so much in her large, expressive eyes, but there’s so much more to her performance of the intelligent but socially awkward young woman. It’s apropos that a character like Carrie finds inspiration in Katharine Hepburn’s roles in the films she starred in with Spencer Tracy, since Powley, much like Hepburn, can be a sharp as a tack and a soft as a rose, both loquacious and introspective. In moments of both subtlety and overtness, Powley gives a truly remarkable performance.

Equally impressive is the first time direction by Susan Johnson. Two scenes in particular I found evocative, lovely, and brilliant examples of visual commentary and reflection. In the first, Carrie is walking into a very empty building at her new night job, earphones in and listening to “Morning” by Edvard Grieg, looking out the window onto the bright lights and buildings of New York City. The juxtaposition of the classical and modern, and the busy city below with her alone is such a beautiful visual demonstration of her feelings of isolation and disparity with everything and everyone surrounding her. It’s also a wonderful contrast to a scene – shot in one long, extremely impressive continuous take – of Carrie and her neighbor Cy walking through the city and getting to know each other. The isolation and separation has dissipated; she’s no longer shutting out the world, but becoming a part of it, with the continuous nature of the scene reflecting how she (like most people) are evolving creatures. It’s these kind of subtleties and symbolic touches that really add to the film.

The last aspects of Carrie Pilby deemed worthy of high praise are the story and characters created by Lissner and adapted by screenwriter Kara Holden. I found it interesting and non-coincidental to include the book Franny and Zooey. Carrie’s favorite book is not some arbitrary choice. Admittedly, I’ve only read J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (one of my favorites), but upon research, I see that in both, much like Carrie herself, the characters have frustrations with societal norms, hypocrites and phonies, and are going through some sort of existential crisis. Of course, what’s nice is that Carrie is decidedly more upbeat and hopeful, with certainly a wide array of recognizable characters and relatable and poignant themes. We all have seen people like Carrie’s father, and her eager and enthusiastic friend Tara. The men in Carrie’s life are all familiar, most especially Ritter’s Matt and O’Donoghue’s Professor Harrison, respectively the recognizable “nice guy “who is not as mature or good as he claims to be, and the handsome charmer who takes what he wants and then casts you aside the moment he can’t. What I most appreciate above all is Carrie’s character and her journey throughout the film. She has a tough facade but vulnerable heart. She is strong deep down, and learns to be brave and much less judgmental of people who think and act differently than her. At the same time, she opens up and evolves, but also doesn’t compromise who she is or her morals. And nor should she. She learns empathy and gains courage, but maintains a maturity and sense of self. And while the last image of the film can be taken as a romantic, “aww” kind of moment, what is so wonderful is that it demonstrates both her growth and state of constancy. You don’t have to compromise your morals in order to fit in or understand and relate to others. You can open yourself up to the “norms “of society while still retaining your own sense of normalcy. In this hopeful moment, we see that there are people who are worthwhile and won’t let you down. But this is not about Carrie finally finding a guy who fits that description. It’s about the journey of self-discovery and of learning to be completely yourself, while also being willing to evolve and strive to be more a understanding person, unafraid and unashamed of yourself and the world around you.

Favorite Quotes:
“Just because you want something doesn’t make it right.”

“Give humanity a chance. Someone might surprise you.”

“Great, I’ll drink a cherry soda and all my problems will just disappear.”

Carrie Pilby is available on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and OnDemand.


    One Comment

  1. Viola VewsMay 4th, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    This is an excellent review and so spot on about every part of the movie.

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