The new indie film, Carrie Pilby, is a Penn–centric affair. Based off the Penn alumna Caren Lissner's (C'93) best selling 2003 novel, and starring Penn alumna Vanessa Bayer (C'04), the film will win over Penn students with its charm and relatability. Though the film will be showing in theaters all along the East Coast starting on March 31st, Penn students have the chance to catch the film a week earlier at The Women's Film Festival this weekend in Center City. Billed as the centerpiece film, Carrie Pilby will be playing at 10 pm on Saturday, March 18th. at The Black Box Theater. Tickets will be eight dollars with a student ID (check out the event here).
Directed by Susan Johnson, Carrie Pilby is a classically tender, but hilarious, coming of age story. An almost–genius, Carrie (played by Bel Powley from The Diary of a Teenage Girl) graduates Harvard University at the age of 19 and moves to New York City. Despite her intimidating intellect, Carrie sees the world simply, believing that nearly everyone in the city is either a sex–obsessed maniac or a immoral hypocrite. Consequently, she struggles to navigate the complex adult world of jobs, friendships, and dating, and often finds herself feeling isolated. Carrie’s therapist suggests a five point plan to help her challenge these beliefs. The audience follows Carrie as she struggles to find out who she is, what she believes in, and what she’s willing to do to fit in. Over the phone, Lissner explains that the main theme of both the film and her book is harsh, often unfounded judgement: “Carrie is young and she has a lot of black and white judgements of people. I think also people judge her without knowing her backstory— she seems like an over–privileged girl, but there’s more to that story, too.”
The film will be right at home at its preview in Philadelphia, and Penn students will likely see a little of themselves in Carrie. Lissner's own time at Penn shaped her conception of the story. Stubborn and closed off, Carrie finds it difficult to be outgoing and bubbly and feels pressured to give into a life of normative social behavior. Lissner remarks, “I spent a lot of time writing in college— I wish that I had gotten out more and done more social things, so I think that influenced the book too, since the book is [about] a nerdy, sheltered girl… So my time at Penn probably influenced the novel in that way, too.”
After she graduated Penn and moved to Hoboken, she found more inspiration to bring Carrie to life.
"I was kind of frustrated with single life in the city, and I started writing… I also had had some luck publishing humor, I had a few things on The Philadelphia Inquirer’s commentary page around the time I was graduating from Penn. So I decided to write something that is a little more funny and it kind of evolved into Carrie Pilby."
Lissner, who wrote for the Daily Pennsylvanian and Punchbowl while at Penn, is thrilled with the way the final product turned out. While she was pretty removed from the process of making the film, she feels that the film added a new dimension to her text. “There’s nothing in my contract that said I had to approve everything, but Susan Johnson sent me a bunch of drafts of the script, which was really nice because she didn’t have to do that. Actually it turned out it was a great script and it was very true to the story, but it also extended some of the story lines. All my Penn professors taught me to be subtle, not overdramatic, but for a movie, they had to dramatize a little. So it was actually kind of fulfilling to see them extend the some of the story lines and find conclusions to some of the things I left hanging.”
Lissner has been involved with comic writing since she was at Penn, when she wrote a weekly college–life and humor column for the Daily Pennsylvanian. Since then she’s had some of her comic work published, and has consistently contributed to McSweeney’s online humor page. The film only served to enhance Lissner's innate sense of humor. She explains, “Everyone in it is wonderful, and almost all of them have a comedy background— they were very funny and they all in different ways did a great job in bringing the story to life.”
Charismatic and heartfelt, hilarious and timeless, Carrie Pilby is sure to make a splash with its quirky cast and on–the–nose humor. Be sure to check it out this weekend before it officially hits theaters.