As a Karen Gillan super-fan ever since her days as Amy Pond on Doctor Who, I had been anticipating her writing and directing debut, The Party is Just Beginning ever since she announced the project on her instagram. Gillan has been consistently great at picking material, even her short lived sitcom, Selfie, was criminally underrated. She even picks great blockbusters with a co-starring role in Guardians of the Galaxy and Jumanji. Needless to say, I was fascinated to see what she would do with material of her own.
The Party is Just Beginning stars Gillan as Liusaidh, an unapologetic party girl who enjoys random, anonymous sex and a whole lot of drinking. In other movies the story would be about reforming her, helping her to find a boyfriend, husband or a male savior but that is not what this movie is about. Liusaidh has some deep emotional wounds but she’s not looking for a savior, she just needs a friend.
Liusaidh’s deepest hurt came from her best friend, Allistair (Matthew Beard). Liusaidh watched as he went into a dead end relationship with a closeted missionary and watched further as Alistair's father died and he kept pushing away her attempts at comfort. The film features seamless flashbacks that you’re aware are flashbacks but don’t feel forced. The flashbacks are layered into the story and it’s clear that the present we are in with Liusaidh, Alistair is not present.
Death is omnipresent in Liusaidh’s life as her family is plagued by mistaken calls from people attempting to call a suicide hotline. One day Liusaidh decides to engage with one of the callers and they become friends. The caller is an elderly man whose wife died some time ago and he feels that he is now a burden to his children. The caller fears that his children are going to put him into a home so he has considered taking his life.
Scenes of Liusaidh talking with the caller are broken up by her random drunken, hook ups. These include a nameless man, eventually named Dale (Lee Pace), who she comes to see more than once. Dale is just as troubled as everyone else around Liusaidh. I won’t go into that however, I recommend you see that for yourself. It’s not a spoiler or anything, I don’t think I could spoil The Party is Just Beginning, it’s a mood piece more than a traditional narrative.
Karen Gillan’s direction of The Party is Just Beginning is exceptionally strong. For a first time out, she has a good hand on the basics and some innovation in the way she seamlessly brings the past and present together in the story. She certainly didn’t give herself an easy task with the script which is uncompromisingly experimental in how it weaves the past and present and doesn’t have anything approaching a traditional narrative.
The film doesn’t have any major dramatics, there are no revelations and Liusaidh as a character isn’t evolving in a classic arc. As I mentioned earlier, The Party is Just Beginning is a mood piece. The film isn’t about anything traditional, it’s about observing this prickly, depressed and unusual character. You are either up for something unusual or the movie is not for you. I was up for every moment of The Party is Just Beginning.
I’m a sucker for a good mood piece and I found the depressive, slate gray mood of The Party is Just Beginning remarkably engaging. I fought with the movie, my mind tried to cram it into something I recognized until about half way through when I began to settle into what the movie is, an observation of a character we don’t often see in modern film culture. Liusaidh is singularly human, unique and genuine. She feels real, like someone you have seen somewhere in your life.
The slice of life here may not be to everyone’s palette. The film owns its depressive air and moody atmosphere. Gillan offers no comforts such as sitcom laugh lines or explosive moments of drama. Scenes you think might erupt simply don’t because such recognizable bits of drama would ruin the remarkably curated mood of The Party is Just Beginning. I feel I am not making the film sound appealing but trust me when I tell you, Gillan holds the screen and, if you’re like me, you will be riveted by her work. That’s the appeal here, observing the artful direction and complex performance.
I had been waiting for some time for this movie to arrive. I had assumed it would be on blu ray and DVD soon and I had been watching for it. What a terrific surprise it was to find the film streaming on Amazon. It’s a little pricier than a DVD rental but it was worth it. The Party is Just Beginning is a terrific film. The film is a terrific announcement that Karen Gillan is not merely an appealing actress, she is a true artist and budding auteur. I can’t wait to see what she does next.