Let’s just start off with a disclaimer – I am not a film reviewer, but if you’re here for a ranty feminist blog then you’re in the right place. I went to the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and saw not nearly as many films as most other people, but I want to have a little rant about one of the films I saw – Carrie Pilby.
This post contains spoilers, but that’s okay because it’s a crap film and you probably shouldn’t watch it anyway. It's plot has been done so many times before, it's nothing new so you won't miss much. This is your typical love story, but more shit. I thought it might have a slightly different ‘quirky-comedy’ edge to it…but no. Not even a decent Romeo and Juliet type… no. It’s Bridget Jones but trying to be quirky, cute and endearing.
Bel Powley stars as Carrie Pilby, a 19 year old smart-arsed posh girl, who I wanted to slap round the face pretty much all the way through the film. The actress herself is great, it’s not her fault the character she played was unrealistic and annoying. Bel Powley in fact starred in one of my favourite films of the last few years – Diary of a Teenage Girl – I suggest you watch that instead of Carrie Pilby!
Carrie continually tells us all through the film how clever she is, and drops in names of pretentious writers whenever she can. If she was really that clever, she wouldn’t act like a befuddled 12 year old all the time. She’s supposed to be socially awkward I think, yet she's confident and always trying to be funny.
So she’s seeing a therapist who is…wait for it…her dad’s friend! Would it really be so hard just to do a tiny bit of research into therapeutic practices? I thought it’d be pretty obvious that you couldn’t have any kind of therapeutic relationship with your dad’s friend. Therapists in films really piss me off. Unless they’re meant to be a bit crap, or an ex-therapist (think Good Will Hunting), then they can get away with it. Therapists do not give people lists of ‘five things to make you happy’…yet this is what he gives to Carrie Pilby. Good job her family is frickin’ rich if that’s all they’re paying him for.
So she goes and buys some goldfish which seems to serve no purpose for the plot other than to make her look irresponsible and stupid. Of course another thing on the list is ‘go on a date.’ Of course. I knew this was mainly what the film was going to be about but I expected something funny about modern dating (watch Fleabag if you’re looking for that sort of thing) but instead I got Snow Frickin’ White.
Hello?! It’s 2016! We don’t need to be rescued anymore. Can we not have a happy ending in a film without the man rescuing the helpless lady?
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. I told you, it’s a rant. Stay with me.
There’s the guy at work , the hot boy next door (literally), and flashbacks to a fling with her hot teacher at uni who didn’t return a book (this is a major part of the plot…yawn). She of course has daddy issues, because why else would she not be able to get a man, right? Her dad is exactly the kind of posh bloke you’d picture him as, the kind that says ‘darling’ a lot. She acts like a stroppy little bitch all the way through the film, repeatedly telling him that she hates him, until he goes to New York to see her and punches her ex in the face to get the book back (ultra-clever plot point, see?)
So what we have is a very intelligent young woman, who gets rescued by not just one, not two but three men; her dad’s mate the therapist, her dad, and the boy next door who is obviously Prince Charming because he wants to know her middle name. Her intelligence is completely undermined by the message that she is happy and ‘fixed’ because of the men in her life. After years of hating her father she suddenly likes him because he punched somebody. That's messed up. She has an average job which he got for her, and seemingly no ambition to do anything else with her mastermind brain. What the film is saying is, like so many out there, is ‘so what if you’re intelligent - don’t get a career, get a man.’
I’m sorry to take this rant out on Carrie Pilby. It’s based on a book and I mean no disrespect to these writers or filmmakers in particular, as this is a bigger problem in the film industry and the media. Yes, some people like a happy ending, and some people like love stories, but they don’t need to hold these strong patriarchal messages. It’s because of fairy tales like this that people fear being lonely. We are desperate to find ‘the one’ and then stay with that person forever. And if you don’t find that ‘one’, then maybe the world will just implode….
Or maybe you’ll just have a run of interesting relationships and have some good life experiences.
Thankfully, I saw another film at TIFF which provided the depth I was looking for: Blue Jay. It’ll be out on Netflix soon. It’s an interesting relationship drama with believable characters and a lovely balance of poignancy and comedy. There’s no underlying bullshit fairy tale or patriarchal message, and it’s brilliant. It's the kind of honest, realistic relationship drama which I wish I could write. As I was only at TIFF for the second half of the festival, it was the first film I watched, which set the bar really high. It was the best film I saw at the festival, and one of my favourite films this year. The Q&A after the screening with Mark Duplass and Alex Lehmann made it even better - such lovely, appreciative guys! I found it really inspirational (with a touch of jealousy of course!)
I’ll admit I was secretly very glad I watched Carrie Pilby. Why? Because sometimes the stuff I don't like inspires me even more than the stuff I like! Not that I think I can necessarily do better, but it reminds me how much we need new stories and new perspectives. Although I’m inspired by the films I love, I sometimes get a little disheartened (‘I can never write anything as good as that’ – I whinged after Blue Jay) but watching something that really ticks me off reminds me that what I write is so different, and that can only be a good thing.
Whilst in Toronto, I met a guy who ran a shop on Queens Street West (called ‘Original’ – it’s amazing and colourful and amazing!). I bought some fantastic sparkly shoes as a reminder of my time in Toronto, and the inspiration I felt to write my next screenplay. Every time I look at those shoes now I’ll be reminded of that feeling (I hope) and of the lovely guy in the shop. He told me he once had his own TV show and he got out of the business as he wouldn’t sell his soul etc – I realise he may well have been full of shit, especially when he said he was friends with Daryl Hannah, but I didn’t really mind.
He reminded me of the importance of being different, staying true to yourself and telling your own stories. In a world of so limited stories, the only way to really make it feel true is with your own voice and your own experiences. Yours are just as important as everyone else’s and you’ve got to wear them with pride, like I’ll be wearing my sparkly shoes!
Other film recommendations from TIFF 2016:
Christine – Have something cheery ready to watch after this one. It’s a brilliant film with fantastic acting from Rebecca Hall about a news reader who shot herself live on air, and it’s about the events that leads up to her death.
Colossal – Anne Hathaway thinks she’s controlling a monster in South Korea! Original, fun, with interesting characters and darker undertones.