The Party’s Just Beginning review: Karen Gillan’s movie directorial debut

Debuting as part of the 2018 Glasgow Film Festival, Karen Gillan’s directorial debut The Party’s Just Beginning, explores the life of an emotionally muted twenty something, whose best friend committed suicide almost a year to the day.

Guardians Of The Galaxy star Gillan is Liusaidh, a 24 year old Inverness girl, whose bleak outlook on life has trapped her in a rut of unfulfilled potential and mundane routine: she still lives at home, she works in the cheese counter of her local supermarket, she goes to the pub, has sex with random strangers and always eats chips on the way home.

In 2013, in her first post-Doctor Who role, Gillan played Jane Lockhart in Scottish rom-com, Not Another Happy Ending. In many ways, The Party’s Just Beginning is that film’s wayward, drug and drink-ravaged younger sister. This is further evidenced from the fact that she has teamed up again with Ending’s producer, Claire Mundell and production company, Synchronicity Films.

Where Ending was light, fun and hopeful, Party is stark, bleak and unforgiving. Influences of movies such as Trainspotting are evident (particularly in the film’s colourful opening monologue) but while the film never quite reaches the heights of the adventures of Begbie and co, it does hit the right emotional punches and make for a genuinely moving study of grief, guilt and human loss.

As a director, Gillan commands the screen with artistic and visual flair. The gritty subject matter is dealt with sensitively yet artistically, as Liusaidh experiences flashbacks that lead to the events of her best friend, Matthew (Matthew Beard) taking his own life.

Her experiences, both in front of, and behind the camera have given Gillan a rich tapestry with which to play with, and the juxtaposition created here makes for a beautiful, if dark, piece of cinema. What Party does with great ease is showcase Gillan’s potential as a director, in a time where the cinematic landscape is crying out for compelling female voices behind the camera. She, rather proudly, carves Inverness into almost another film character, rather than location, and as a director, drives strong performances from her cast (which includes her Guardians co-star Lee Pace and Two Doors Down comedienne Rachel Jackson).

There is no doubt that the film is ambitious, although it perhaps tries to cover too many themes. In the short space of 80 minutes we have parental, marital and domestic disillusionment, sexual and gender identity issues, drug and alcohol abuse, casual sex, rape and the banality of a 9 to 5 lifestyle. One plot that did really get this reviewer a little teary-eyed was a friendship Liusaidh strikes up with an elderly gentleman who calls her house by mistake, thinking it’s a helpline. The exchanges are so human and poignant, leading to a wonderfully sad, yet endearing closure in the film’s final minutes.

Ultimately though, it is the central partnership and believable friendship of Liusaidh and Matthew that really drives the film and emotionally anchors it for the viewer

The Party’s Just Beginning is a very good directorial debut for Gillan, sparkling with promise, raw emotion and moments of edgy, satirical humour. While it has its issues, it is a fine showcase for all involved and a strong start for Karen Gillan’s blooming directorial career.