The war between one’s head and their heart has been at the center of dramatic storytelling from the very beginning. It’s a tale as old as time that has repeatedly been explored to the point of exhaustion in virtually every form of media. To make an impression with such ideas in 2017 requires a truly original perspective. Carrie Pilby, adapted from Caren Lissner’s novel of the same name, may be as good as it gets.
Intelligence has made many aspects of Carrie Pilby’s (Bel Powley) life easier to navigate, but it often has the opposite impact on matters of the heart. A Harvard graduate at eighteen who now lives the life of a hermit in New York City while struggling to interact with or even understand the outside world, Pilby could not be less interested in opening herself up to the idea of romance. There is nothing rational about the rush of emotions that comes with feelings of love. You cannot dissect the moment just like you cannot accurately predict where it might lead. Where matters of the heart are concerned you have to accept your lack of control, and for Carrie Pilby that can be a difficult thing to do.
At the behest of her psychologist, Carrie agrees to complete a five-point plan designed to challenge her inability to let go and be in the moment. The tasks include agreeing to a blind date and attending a party, both of which could not be more further outside Carrie’s comfort zone. Her determination to prove she is right to shut herself off from everyone else pushes her forward nonetheless, and slow Carrie becomes entangled in a web of sex, lies, and romance that forces her to rethink her black and white world view.
There is something refreshing about a grounded romantic comedy that is not afraid to explore complicated themes and relationships. Through her efforts to complete the plan her psychologist designed Carrie Pilby finds herself emotionally invested in a man engaged to marry someone else while still reeling from heartache caused by her ex-boyfriend. Add to this the fact Pilby is currently upset with her father, her only remaining parent, and the emotional turmoil is almost too much to bare. The film counter-balances this with humor, often pulled from Carrie’s resistance to most forms of human interaction. She’s says the things out loud most of us say to ourselves as if they were a matter of fact because, for her, they are.
A movie like Carrie Pilby lives and dies on the strength of its performances, and fortunately for this film it has a leading actress who will someday be considered one of the greats. Bel Powley’s turn as the title character might as well be considered a crash course in how to lose yourself in a role. Pilby is a complicated character that can be hard to love at times and utterly infuriating at others, but Powley finds a way to make her enchanting throughout. You find a bit of yourself in Pilby because Powley is able to find what makes her relatable and convey it through performance alone. The talent supporting hero is equally good, especially Nathan Lane and William Moseley, but this is the Powley show from beginning to end.
The one question I kept coming back to while watching Carrie Pilby is why the story was adapted for film instead of television or one of the numerous streaming platforms producing original content. There is more than enough happening in Pilby’s life to justify breaking the story into a miniseries, if not a full blown series that could potentially run for several seasons. The premise of an intelligent young woman navigating the world of dating may seem simple, but there is an emotional complexity demands more attention and time than this 98-minute feature can adequately provide. It’s good in a way that leaves you wishing there was more, only in this case you know that this is all we are likely to get.