Christy Lemire, rogerebert.com, sets up the plot and primary characterization of the titular character, a motherless child played by Bel Powley:
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. A native Londoner, Carrie now lives by herself in Manhattan. She skipped three grades and graduated from Harvard at 18. A year later, she works as a proofreader at a law firm but doesn’t really need the job.
Whereas in the novel Carrie’s therapist, Dr. Petrov, gives her a 5-point therapy plan, in the movie it’s a 6-pointer. First, the plan presented in the book, per Reading for Sanity:
1. List 10 things you love (and DO THEM!)
2. Join a club (and TALK TO PEOPLE!)
3. Go on a date (with someone you actually LIKE!)
4. Tell someone you care (your therapist doesn’t count!)
5. Celebrate New Year’s (with OTHER PEOPLE!)
As played out in the film (Rex Reed, New York Observer): “Clearly flummoxed by her maverick, unorthodox nonconformity, [Carrie’s shrink] gives her a list of goals she should achieve before the end of the year if she wants to be happy. Go on a date. Get a pet. Make a friend. Spend New Year’s Eve with someone. Carrie Pilby is about how a girl who is profoundly disappointed in the rest of mankind decides to follow her doctor’s advice: ‘Give humanity a chance. Someone might surprise you.'”
Alternatively, a snarkier description of this “feeble plot device” by David Ehrlich, Indiewire: “‘Get a job.’ ‘Make a friend.’ ‘Go on a date with Jason Ritter’ (great in an unflattering role). ‘Try to distract viewers from the overwhelmingly obvious fact that you’re going to end up with the handsome neighbor (William Moseley) who exists for no other reason than to be the nice guy who’s been right in front of you the whole time’…He’s quite a perceptive therapist, really.”
In the trailer below is Dr. Petrov’s humble admission that he doesn’t “have all the answers”—“which is just about the most important thing a young person can hear, and somehow, despite the far-fetched nature of this film, comes off as inspiring,” states Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian.
Other characters of interest include a coworker played by Vanessa Bayer and a boundary-violating former professor (Colin O’Donoghue). Watch below:
The following review excerpt by Leslie Felperin, Hollywood Reporter, seems to aptly reflect the generally mixed reactions among critics: “At its worst, the film oozes the sickly smugness of a self-help pamphlet, but when it relaxes its didactic grip and lets the actors take control it can be quite charming. Powley verbally spars elegantly with her co-stars, and the best scenes are the volleys of banter back and forth between her and Carrie’s potential suitors, first Jason Ritter, nervy as an MIT grad with whom Carrie goes on a blind date, and then William Moseley as the music geek boy next door.”
Update and Spoiler Now That I’ve Seen It (2018): That Carrie’s therapist has been her parents’ friend isn’t the only inappropriate therapy boundary in this movie. When Carrie also pops in on her therapist at unappointed times, for instance, and pries deeply personal info out of him, it is he, of course, who is at fault by allowing this.