Written and directed by lead actress Karen Gillan, a woman’s reckless actions send her on a downward spiral following her best friend’s death, before a chance encounter changes everything. Also starring: Lee Pace, Matthew Beard, Paul Higgins, Siobhan Redmond, Jamie Quinn, Rachel Jackson, Lesley Harcourt, Julie Graham, Ralph Riach and Paul Tinto.
Feature directorial debut from fan favourite Gillan who may be known for her roles in Doctor Who, Guardians of the Galaxy and the rebooted Jumanji series but fans will have a tough time with this film if they’re expecting something along those lines. Instead what Gillan has put together is a poignant telling of a young woman struggling with her mental health, while everyone around her is blind to her struggle or just too busy trying to distract themselves from their own problems. It tackles a lot of very current and important issues that can cause devastation to the lives of everyday people.
Firstly, Gillan’s performance as Liusaidh gives a little taste of familiarity but is still far removed from a lot of her previous portrayals, she has a lot of darkness swirling around behind her sarcasm, excessive taste for alcohol and frequently lowered inhibitions. She’s the classic character that doesn’t know what to do with her situation, having witnessed a terrible thing and losing her closest friend, she lets herself fall towards rock bottom or even digs to reach it because she feels as though there’s nothing else to be done. Her portrayal of a cavalier attitude while being deeply depressed is a balancing act and one that never lets anything drop, she’s charming in her own way and watching her spiral out of her control is compelling and heart-breaking. Beard’s performance as her best friend Alistair comes in bits and pieces as we learn what happened to lead him to end his own life, but those fractions are part of an incredible performance that holds sincere emotion in its darkest moments. The introduction of Lee Pace’s character is an interesting contrast of being a glimmer of hope for Liusaidh, at the same time as a man who has found himself in a similar downward spiral, connecting the pair in a very simple and empathetic manner. It’s very possible you may not even recognise Pace at first with his messy almost rugged look and heavy beard but his performance is very similar to Gillan’s in its repressed emotions slowly rising to the surface, trying to push away his problems with alcohol and sex, they make a gripping pair to watch. However, Gillan’s performance alongside every cast member in this film works has a great chemistry because she holds a brilliant presence throughout.
Secondly, moving behind the screen, her work as writer is just as compelling as her acting, opening on a very blunt, fast paced monologue in the style of karaoke was an unusual but strong choice, it gives you an immediate view into the heart of her character. It continues that way throughout; it may slowly delve into the details but the dialogue is frequently going at a speedy pace and stops it from ever feeling dragged out at all. It’s full of a very relatable apathy and brokenness, as well as what could be considered a youthful melancholy, it’s more of a modern and young version of finding answers at the bottom of a bottle, it has a higher energy despite its inherent darkness. It’s also really great to see the important issues that this film tackles, particularly the vulnerability of trans people and how suicide is horribly prevalent in their community because there’s a lack of support and understanding, as well as rampant prejudice. It’s not about happy endings and resolutions, it’s about being able to share your problems with other people, being able to open up and deal with matters in a healthy way, particularly with your family. Liusaidh’s mental health problems are only worsened by feeling as though she’s unable to talk to her parents, even if they’re only a couple of feet away and it’s such a common problem for people across the world that it’s wonderful to see the film tackle it. Especially with it being inherently British to bottle things up and for a lot of families to never talk about anything emotional or serious.
Gillan’s direction is also very interesting, you can easily see the creativity behind it, it’s not following the same old path, it experiments with a number of its shots to provide something different. It works really well as it strongly pulls you into their lives, while giving you the chance to experience how Liusaidh’s depression began for yourselves, instead of just being handed it and then watching her spiral. One of the few issues that the film has otherwise is primarily the sound-mixing, it’s likely a pet peeve of many film fans to have to constantly adjust the volume to go from actually being able to hear the dialogue to not being deafened by the score or music. It’s unfortunate as it’s the only real out of sync element with an otherwise smoothly running machine, it’s just an irritating factor to feel like you’re missing things because you can’t quite catch what they’re saying at certain points without having to ramp up the volume.
The Party’s Just Beginning is an impressive debut from Gillan, it brings darkness and genuine emotion to a poignant story and given how often the feature debut conversation comes up, it’s disappointing that she doesn’t get mentioned more. There’s a strange but undeniable charm to this film, it’s ever so slightly messy and fractured must like its lead and it works really well as a way to tell this story. There’s a melancholy that’s palpable but at the same time, the film doesn’t feel like it’s overly downtrodden or slow, it still has a surprising amount of energy to it, forever moving forward even if it’s stuck in its terrible past. They put together a really strong cast that each add different personalities and stories to its larger journey which push forward its message of having an open discussion about mental health. Overall, it’s a really great window into Karen Gillan’s potential behind the camera so let’s hope she tackles another feature.