If prolific reader Carrie Pilby (Bel Powley) watched romantic comedies the way she consumes books, she might see that her dispiriting year as a recluse was ending and that she’d wandered into a merry and bright fairy tale of New York. But she’s too absorbed in completing a checklist from her psychiatrist, Dr. Petrov (Nathan Lane), who encourages her to meet new people and recall long-lost pleasures. Carrie graduated from Harvard at 18, so she’s much too smart to be affected by such simplistic self-help claptrap. She attends the therapy sessions only to appease her absent father (Gabriel Byrne), who’s hoping her maturity level can begin to match her IQ.
One of the pleasures of this glossy, paint-by-numbers romcom is that anyone who’s seen a Bridget Jones film or Hallmark Channel Christmas movie knows more than Carrie does about what’s happening to her. Screenwriter Kara Holden takes the overweening first-person narration of Caren Lissner’s novel and funnels it into conversations with Petrov instead of a stream-of-consciousness voiceover. The engaging Powley chews into her diatribes with relish, but she primarily employs guarded body language and quicksilver facial expressions to illustrate Carrie’s isolation and befuddlement.
In her directorial debut, Susan Johnson balances the character’s haughty brilliance and aimless privilege with an underlying vulnerability. Johnson treats Carrie with protective compassion during romantic entanglements with men who disillusion, challenge, and comfort her. Happiness is a gift this lonely young woman didn’t believe she deserved, and Carrie accepts it with both gratitude and relief.
Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on March 31, 2017 by The Orchard
First published in The Village Voice, 2017.
Carrie Pilby is available on Netflix