Mr. Pilby, Carrie’s father
Directed by Susan Johnson
Screenplay by Kara Holden and Dean Craig, based on the book by Caren Lissner
A Braveart Films Production, distributed by The Orchard
Premiered September 2016 at the Toronto International Film Festival Released in theaters March 31, 2017
Cast: Bel Powley, Nathan Lane, Gabriel Byrne, Vanessa Bayer, William Moseley, Colin O’Donoghue, Jason Ritter
Live your life before it passes you by
Carrie Pilby knows a thing or two; just not how to fix herself. But that’s about to change.
Sometimes the smartest thing to do is to not know what you’re doing.
Synopsis from the Toronto International Film Festival 2016 website:
Awkward, isolated and disapproving of most of the people around her, a precocious 19-year-old genius is challenged to put her convictions to the test by venturing out on to the NYC dating scene, in this adaptation of Caren Lissner’s best-selling 2003 novel.
Depending on your point of view, Carrie Pilby (Bel Powley) either has a problem or she is a problem. This very clever girl graduated Harvard at the age of 19 and lives in a small NYC apartment paid for by her London-based father. World on a string, right? On the contrary — Carrie has no job, no purpose, and no friends, because she actively dislikes just about everyone (rating them “morally and intellectually unacceptable”) as only a teenager can. Her one regular contact is her dad’s therapist friend, Dr. Petrov (Nathan Lane), who after a fruitless series of weekly visits finally sets Carrie some homework: a five-point plan to get her life together.
Carrie grudgingly agrees to go through the list, but her execution leaves something to be desired. Item #3 (“Go on a date — with someone you like!”) backfires particularly badly when her Craigslist mate search leads to a connection with Matt (Jason Ritter), a man who is engaged but “unsure.” The results of that endeavour call for an emergency visit to Dr. Petrov. And when her father’s circumstances undergo a drastic change, Carrie begins to understand that reconciling with the past is the only way to tick those items off the to-do list.
Adapted from Caren Lissner’s bestselling novel, Carrie Pilby is a winning comedy about the metropolitan life of privileged youth, but it’s also much more than that. As the source of Carrie’s misanthropy is gradually revealed, our empathy for her grows, even if we want to pull our hair out in frustration at her lack of life skills. You might just end up loving her, even if she hates you.
Mr. Pilby: Hello, darling. What’s the matter?
Carrie: Why haven’t you told me that this woman and her children–apparently you’re NOT coming to New York for Christmas!
Mr. Pilby: It was meant to be a surprise, darling.
Carrie: But that’s a shit surprise! You know I hate London!
Mr. Pilby: You know, darling. Life doesn’t always work out as we plan it. We have to adapt.
Carrie: I can’t finish the list because I left my “Franny and Zooey” at Professor Harrison’s.
Dr. Petrov: Ok. Get it back.
Carrie: I told you. I can’t. I don’t need to finish the list to know that–shocker!–drinking a cherry soda will not make my dad pay attention to me. Having a gold fish won’t bring my mom back. It did help me learn, though, that going on a date could make me feel more lonely than ever.
Carrie: Just because I don’t want to do demeaning or immoral things doesn’t make me a prude because a prude wouldn’t sleep with her English professor, would she?
Mr. Pilby (suddenly appearing in the doorway): You slept with your English professor?!
Dr. Petrov: I tried to tell you.
Carrie: What are you doing here?! What is he doing here?!
Mr. Pilby: I was worried about you.
Mr. Pilby: I came so that you wouldn’t have to go to London, which you seem to hate.
Carrie: No, I don’t hate London. I hate you. And I hate this stupid list!
Mr. Pilby (to Dr. Petrov, after Carrie storms off): That went well.
Dr. Petrov: Give her some time.
Mr. Pilby: Wasn’t sure if you’d remember. It’s been such a long time.
Carrie: I’m a prodigy, aren’t I? … If you get lost, I’ll meet you at Hans Christian Andersen. Poor guy. Never fell in love. Wrote all those books for children and never had any of his own.
Mr. Pilby: Might be a good thing. If he’d had them, he would have undoubtedly disappointed them…
Mr. Pilby: I really want you to like Fliss. I should have told you. But I thought if you met her first, then she and her kids–you’d give them a bit more of a chance.
Mr. Pilby: When you mother got sick, I felt that I had failed her. My whole reason for being was to take care of her. And you. And then I got really terrified that I was going to fail you as well.
Mr. Pilby: You were so far ahead of your classmates. You were brilliant. And I thought, if you went to college, you’d meet people who were of like mind.
Carrie: I was fourteen. I was a freak.
Mr. Pilby: What about the English teacher?
Carrie: He made me feel like less of one, in the beginning, at least.
Mr. Pilby: Did he . . . hurt you?
Carrie: No. No. It wasn’t like that.
Carrie: I just wish the bastard would give me my book back.
Mr. Pilby: What book?
Carrie: “Franny and Zooey.” Don’t you remember? Mom gave me a first edition for my twelfth birthday.
Mr. Pilby: Oh, yes. So she did.
Mr. Pilby: You lent him that book!?
Carrie: I thought he’d appreciate it. I thought he’d appreciate ME.
Mr. Pilby: That’s it. Okay. Let’s go.
Mr. Pilby: We’re gonna get your book back. Where does he live?
Mr. Pilby: I’m Daniel Pilby. Carrie’s father.
Carrie: [to Professor Harrison’s wife] We’ve come to get a book that your husband’s been kind enough to look after for me.
Mr. Pilby: [walking through the party at Professor Harrison’s house and greeting the guests] Happy Christmas!
Professor Harrison: Will that be all?
Mr. Pilby: Well, there is one small thing [he hits the Professor in the nose]. Borrowing a book and not returning it is the height of rudeness.
Carrie: Are you okay!?
Mr. Pilby: I think I’ve broken something. Bloody well worth it, though, eh?
Carrie: I missed you.
Mr. Pilby: And I missed you. So, so much. I’m so sorry for everything.
Carrie: It’s okay. But, you need to stop trying to get me sorted. I’m nineteen. I’m not supposed to be sorted yet.
Mr. Pilby: Okay.
. . . As the title character, Bel Powley is so enormously compelling that she breathes life into Carrie’s quirks and the story’s contrivances. And it’s clear that the women behind the scenes have great affection for Carrie in all her self-sabotaging imperfections. . .
Carrie is the smartest person in the room at all times but she’s too miserable to enjoy it. She has trouble dating and making friends but she’s never at a loss for words. And while she has incisive analysis on the ready, regardless of the situation, she has a harder time understanding herself.
“What’s so great about being happy, anyway?” Carrie asks her therapist (Nathan Lane) in one of her weekly sessions, which give the film its narrative structure. “There are some brilliant, unhappy people.” But the therapist, who’s a longtime friend of Carrie’s wealthy, widower father (Gabriel Byrne), is well aware of what an unusual young lady she is.
When Carrie Pilby goes on a date she pulls the sleeves of her sweater out over her wrists, but not all the way. Her fingers still peek out, but could quickly dart back under cover if need be, though that probably won’t be necessary. She is, after all, a highly intelligent young woman with nothing to fear. Her reclusive nature certainly doesn’t stem from self-doubt, or even anger, but more confusion at a world she doesn’t relate to and, more importantly, sees little value in. She is a polymath and prodigy and lives alone in a great Manhattan apartment (but has a London accent), reads 17 books a week and considers the world’s obsession with sex to be a national epidemic. It’s a role of wish fulfillment for a teen or pre-teen and, as played by Bel Powley, she is absolutely electrifying.
We learn much about Carrie through the recurring device of her sessions with therapist Dr Petrov (Nathan Lane). It’s no coincidence that Petrov is a close friend of the father whose absence seems to be part of what has turned Carrie in on herself since she graduated from Harvard, four years early at the age of eighteen. In the week since her last therapy session, she has read seventeen books. Does she think that’s normal, enquires Petrov. “I think we both know I’m not normal,” snaps back Carrie, who attacks their conversations with a voice like a chisel.
In a bid to help her achieve happiness, Dr Petrov suggests a checklist of things she should do before the end of the year. Make a friend. Go on a date. Spend New Year’s Eve with someone. Rediscover a childhood pleasure. This last proves particularly challenging. What did she do when she was six that she no longer does? “I wrote several strongly worded letters to oil companies,” says Carrie. And since her conversation contains references to Foucault and her wardrobe consists of lots of shapeless cardigans the colour of old gravy, she is not best suited to the teen dating scene.
Still, she is persuaded to adopt the list and at the same time, her father manages to talk her into taking an evening job as a legal proofreader. And Carrie starts to look beyond the covers of her next book.
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. . .
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.
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DVD available at Amazon and many other outlets as well.
behind the scenes
Amazon Review from School Library Journal:
Carrie Pilby was a child prodigy. She skipped three grades but never learned how to make friends. Her father told her she’d find like-minded people in college, specifically Harvard. She refers to this as his “Big Lie.” She graduates at 19, moves back to NYC, and still has no one. She can’t find anyone morally and intellectually acceptable. Her therapist gives her homework: identify things she loves and do them, go on a date, go to a New Year’s Eve party, join a club. So begins her journey toward acceptance of others and herself. Carrie is so thoughtful, inquisitive, and philosophically self-searching that readers will believe she’s a genius. Her observations of New York and New Yorkers alone could fill a very interesting book. Though the narrative is almost completely inside Carrie’s head, her introspection never crosses into navel-gazing. Her thoughts are never boring, even when she’s thinking about math. Carrie Pilby is a page-turner, and the will she or won’t she find love and understanding moves the deceptively uneventful plot. Even as she fails and fails, Carrie’s efforts to integrate bring the mood of the novel slowly out of quiet darkness to buoyant light. Her struggle for acceptance is so universally teenage, smart girls (and women) will pull for her to the end.
–Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library
from the author
Three years ago, a Hollywood film director and trio of producers turned my first novel into a comedy film starring Bel Powley, Nathan Lane, Vanessa Bayer, Gabriel Byrne, Colin O’Donoghue, Jason Ritter, William Moseley, and Desmin Borges. It’s currently streaming on Netflix. It first premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2016 to some nice reviews, then came out in theaters in March of 2017. It began streaming six months later. (It’s a rom-com about a nerdy young woman trying to date and make friends in New York City after college, called “Carrie Pilby”).
I tend to get more questions about the adaptation process than anything else related to my writing, which certainly makes sense — movies are magical, a chance to get caught up in another world for a few hours. Many people would like to see their idea, book, short story, or essay played out on the big screen . . .
If it’s your dream to see your idea or story come to the big screen (or if you just want to see a couple of behind-the-scenes film photos), read on.
Gabriel Byrne and Nathan Lane made two New York City films together that were released in 2016: Carrie Pilby and No Pay, Nudity.