She works behind a supermarket cheese counter in Inverness, and they can’t even get her name badge right. That’s the smallest of the miseries that Luisaidh (Karen Gillan) – pronounced Lucy – faces in The Party’s Just Beginning. A year ago, her best friend Alistair (Matthew Beard) threw himself in front of a train and nothing has been the same since. Traumatised, with no one she feels she can talk too, she spends her nights getting drunk and sleeping with strangers. She forms a kinship with one of them (Lee Pace), but he has his own problems. If Luisaidh’s going to keep on with her life, she’s going to have to work it out for herself.
The Party’s Just Beginning is the directorial and screenwriting debut of Karen Gillan, best known for playing Doctor Whocompanion Amy Pond and Nebula in Guardians Of The Galaxy. Directorial debuts from established actors can often be vanity projects or exercises in dilettantism; Gillan’s is neither. Her film – her spiky, tragic, darkly funny film – shows that she has tremendous talent, both as a writer and a director. It’s exciting to see.
Of course, we already know that Gillan can act, and she proves it with a vengeance again here. Luisaidh has been struck numb by the loss of her friend, going through her days feeling nothing but that loss. The fact that everyone else has moved on, that life keeps chugging onward in all its reliable banality, makes no sense to her. As we shuffle along beside her, it’s heart-breaking to see the way she covers her devastation with a thin layer of black humour, aggression and self-destructive behaviour. Gillan portrays this difficult mix of vulnerability and spikiness with seeming ease.She also writes the story with a real intelligence, dropping in flashbacks at sensible intervals to illustrate what led Alistair to such a desperate situation. Inverness – Gillan’s real hometown – is portrayed as a hellish suburbia. A hotbed of humdrum. A destroyer of anyone different. Luisaidh and Alistair only ever really had each other, so after his suicide, she is in real trouble. The Party’s Just Beginning goes to some very dark places, and it always threatens to get darker – we never stop being scared that Luisaidh is going to go the same way as her friend.
This is a bleak movie and yet there is something very humane about the way Gillan treats her supporting cast of characters. Although Luisaidh sees the fellow inhabitants of her town as vapid vessels of consumerism and unoriginality, we see that everyone is struggling. Everyone – however trite they first appear. Even Alistair’s boyfriend, the film’s villain. The Party’s Just Beginning has a definite nihilistic outlook, but it’s humanistic too; life is hard, and we all just do the best we can to get by. There may be no meaning to any of it, but if we can help each other get through, then maybe that’s enough.
Funny and devastating, bitter and warm, The Party’s Just Beginning is one of the strongest debuts of the year. More please, Karen Gillan.