A tired trope of coming-of-age films is often this: a messy, down-on-her-luck woman is helped along in the healing process by a male character – one who is often far better written. Karen Gillan, she of Doctor Who and Avengers: Endgame notoriety, completely upends convention in The Party’s Just Beginning, her debut feature as writer and director.
Gillan also carries the film within the narrative, starring as the aforementioned young woman, Liusaidh. She is 24, lives with her parents in Inverness, Scotland, and works behind the cheese counter at a supermarket. From the off, she’s framed as a Mark Renton-esque agent of chaos, lopsidedly monologuing in a pub: “Join me in starting a new existence within ourselves.”
But her chaos has urgent meaning – Liusaidh’s complexity is linked to both the allure and disappointment of various men, but in a way simultaneously more tender and tragic than a stereotypical taste for fast sex as a lifeline. There’s plenty of that, still – and a disturbing sexual assault scene – but the main male presence is actually Liusadh’s best friend Alistair, who took his own life a year earlier. This event lets the story share its perspective via flashbacks to heady bursts of partying and present-day grief, coloured by dark circles under Liusaidh’s eyes that won’t fade and the revolving door of people aimlessly trying to fill the void.
Despite the dark themes such as suicide and depression, The Party’s Just Beginning still manages to maintain a wry sense of humour. Gillan painstakingly injects good intentions into despair – understanding that pain is multifaceted, and the need to laugh is key to staying afloat.
With so many conflicting emotions on the table, The Party’s Just Beginning feels much longer than its sprightly 91 minute runtime. It’s rough around the edges, yes, but it’s also crammed with smart and daring ideas, squeezing a vibrant sense of place and identity into a well-worn format. For a first go at such brave, original ideas, this is an admirable attempt. Karen Gillan’s future in film clearly lies behind the camera as much as it does in front of it.
- Director: Karen Gillan
- Starring: Karen Gillan, Lee Pace, Matthew Beard
- Release Date: 1 December 2019