In the beginning we aren't sure if we're going to like Carrie Pilby or its eponymous protagonist. Pilby is a 19-year-old genius, and not the fun kind like Tony Stark. She's pretty insufferable, but that largely has to do with how she's introduced, in labored exposition in which she explains, repeatedly, that she went to Harvard and graduated crazy early; that she reads an insane amount of books every week; and that she has no interest in any kind of social life, perhaps from being maladjusted due to her age. Okay, we got it; this girl needs to get a life. And while Carrie's comic misadventures in trying to have some fun aren't as comical as they could be, we don't mind tagging along as the smartest girl in town learns something new.
A part of the reason we're won over by Carrie Pilby is its star, Bel Powley. She's back playing a similar character as in her breakout, The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Carrie is a young woman intelligent well beyond her years, but she's lacking in the experience to really do anything with it. When we meet her she's just a lonely and miserable New York City gal with no job, no prospects, a father (Gabriel Byrne) she rarely sees, but who is invested enough to get her a therapist, played by Nathan lane. He suggests she stop reading 17 books a week and actually go out and experience life, so he draws up a list (It's not a bucket list, we are repeatedly told.) of things for Carrie to try out.
Most of these things are fairly routine for this kind of comedy, but of course Carrie screws them up badly, usually by over-thinking. To experience going on a date, she calls a newspaper personals ad by an engaged man (Jason Ritter) with the plan to expose him to his fiancé, but instead she ends up liking him. It's suggested she get a pet, so she gets two goldfish because it's a 2-for-1 sale, only for that responsibility to be a little too much. Most of these experiences are worth a chuckle, but nothing really connects until Carrie gets a job and starts meeting people who are a little...let's just say "off the beaten path." Vanessa Bayer and Desmin Borges play two of Carrie's offbeat co-workers, and they give the film that comic punch it so badly needs. They also serve as a reflection of how regular people see someone like Carrie, who portrays herself as intellectually superior, because in virtually every case she is. And naturally she is defensive about how someone of her intellect will be treated. But through them she begins to learn that her stand-offish nature to relationships isn't always warranted, and sometimes it's okay to go out and get drunk with the quirky girl from work.
The film is directed by longtime producer, Susan Johnson, and she has a hard time breaking away from a very strict structure. Everything Carrie experiences is rigidly episodic, which ruins any sense of spontaneity and hampers the narrative flow. But Johnson is experienced enough to veer from that formula in the scenes Powley shares with Bayer, who has a crazy energy that makes for a nice balance. A movie of just those two out on the town would be a winner, for sure. As someone who only settles for the best, Carrie would have a problem with Carrie Pilby, which is just a notch above average.
Rating: 3 out of 5