Runtime: 91 Minutes
Director: Karen Gillan
Writer: Karen Gillan
Stars: Karen Gillan, Lee Pace, Matthew Beard, Paul Higgins, Siobhan Redmond
By Bee Garner
2019 has been an extraordinary and very successful year for Karen Gillan, this summer saw her star in one of the year’s biggest films “Avengers: End Game” and in a few short weeks she’ll be starring in the sequel to “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”, and she is also releasing her directorial debut film, “The Party’s Just Beginning” which Gillan also stars in. This is Karen Gillan as you’ve never seen her before, channeling her own inner “Fleabag” as the self-destructive Liusaidh who is struggling to cope with the loss of her best friend Alistair (Matthew Beard) who had been struggling with his own identity and sexuality.
Liusaidh’s life is going nowhere fast. When we are first introduced to her, she’s drunk and karaoke singing in a crowded pub as people jeer at her and shouting obscenities. Gillan delivers a heartfelt monologue, opening up to the viewer about her fears and anger towards Alistair who she believes has left her. Her fellow punters ignore her, but we see the vulnerability of this twenty-something woman who finds little enjoyment or pleasure in her life. As we watch a montage of her night we see her having casual sex with a man she bumps into outside a local fish and chip shop, but she looks zoned out as they have sex. Later, she walks home shovelling chips in her mouth like she’s on autopilot. As she comes to a railway bridge, she spots a young man (Beard) jumping off, but it is quickly revealed that she’s simply recalling the event in which Alistair took his life.
“This is Karen Gillan as you’ve never seen her before, channeling her own inner “Fleabag”.
Death seems to follow Liusaidh around. Her home phone number is very similar to a local helpline for those who are depressed and suicidal. Across the road, one of Liusaidh’s neighbours takes their own life by hanging, the use of sound is brilliant here as all Liusaidh can hear is the sound of the body swaying and the rope. Her parents (Siobhan Redmond and Paul Higgins) seem oblivious to Liusaidh’s mental state, and spend their time bickering about a back wall that needs painting.
Her other friend Donna (Rachel Jackson) seems to have moved on with her life, and is busy with her partner and painting her nails. Liusaidh’s day job is working on the chesse counter at the local supermarket, and the only hobbies she seems to have is drinking and having sex. As Christmas and the anniversary of Alistair’s death slowly approaches, Liusaidh finds temporary meets a stranger from out of town (Lee Pace) but will it be enough to help heal the wounds of the past?
Gillan shines here, proving her talent as both an actor and a director. Set and shot in her home town of Inverness, Gillan embraces her Scottish roots and also pays homage to her home in a way that reminded me of how Greta Gerwig paid homage to her home town of Sacramento, in “Lady Bird”. Yes, I am making that comparison: “The Party’s Just Beginning” is Gillan’s “Lady Bird” but this is a darker film with one hell of a bite. And very much like Saoirse Ronan’s Christine and Phoebe Waller-Bridge‘s Fleabag, the character of Liusaidh feels very relatable and captures a reality that many young women live in.
This feels like a deeply personal film that Gillan clearly had to make, especially when we consider the high suicide rates in Inverness. Gillan started writing the screenplay over six years ago after reading about the suicide statstics, as she stated in an interview: ” I just remember thinking, “This is really strange.” I grew up there, it’s idyllic, it’s such a beautiful place. It’s always been voted one of the best places to live in the UK. So I was like, why do we have this dark statistic looming over us? So the film is me just exploring that. I wanted to tell the story from somehow from my point of view, even though I hadn’t experienced it.”
“Gillan shines here, proving her talent as both an actor and a director. Set and shot in her home town of Inverness, Gillan embraces her Scottish roots and also pays homage to her home.”
One of the major strengths of the film is in depiction of friendship and the performance from Beard is very impressive. The film is at its strongest when we see intimate scenes between Liusaidh and Alistair through the use of flashbacks. There is also strong supporting performances from the likes of Pace and Jamie Quinn (who plays Alistair’s secret boyfriend Ben). However, it does feel like Gillan is trying to cram too much story into the film (which has a fairly short runtime of just over 90 minutes) and at times the film feels a little too heavy and dark, and the comedic elements don’t always work in their intended way. The film’s dark tone may not be to everyone’s taste and the flashbacks do get a little confusing to follow at certain points.
Overall, this is a very strong debut from Gillan and frankly it’s exciting to see Gillan to take on the role of director. This is a film which really captures the struggles of grief and depression in such a frank and honest way. If you enjoyed “Fleabag” and other content like “Animals” and “Russian Doll” and you’re looking for something similar in tone and content to these then “The Party’s Just Beginning” will tick the right boxes. And, it’ll be exciting to see what Gillan does next especially behind the camera.
Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars
The Party’s Just Beginning is in cinemas 1st December and On Demand 11nd December