You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Party’s Just Beginning’

Karen Gillan writes, directs, and stars in a drama about a Scottish hellion haunted by her friend's suicide. But the film skitters over its despair.

Karen Gillan
Karen Gillan, Matthew Beard, Lee Pace, Paul Higgins, Siobhan Redmond, Jamie Quinn, Rachel Jackson.
Release Date:
Apr 22, 2018

Official Site: https://www.tribecafilm.com/filmguide/party-s-just-beginning-2018

She’s pert and beautiful, and stands out from her scuzzy town in the Scottish Highlands like a diamond on a plate of herring. Yet no one would look at Liusaidh, the 24-year-old heroine of “The Party’s Just Beginning,” and call her a princess. Played by Karen Gillan, the Scottish TV–actress–turned–blockbuster–costar (“Avengers: Infinity War,” “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”), Liusaidh spends each day, sullen and glum, behind the cheese counter of a local supermarket: a go-nowhere job she despises. At night, she drinks like a fish (mostly hard liquor), until she’s trashed enough to go through her ritual of sinful deliverance. She’ll pick up a man, often a stranger — not someone at a bar, but someone right off the street — and have him take her roughly from behind. After that, she’ll scarf several helpings of greasy fries, stuffing them into her mouth as she walks along with greedy abandon. (It’s almost as if her sex itch is an excuse for the chips.)

Liusaidh — pronounced, in case you were wondering, Lucy — is a study in youthful miserablism, and so is “The Party’s Just Beginning,” which Gillan not only stars in; she wrote and directed it too. The movie, a wayward portrait with surrealist touches, is trying for something genuine. Yet despite some good scenes, some tart lines (excessive drinking “makes working in a supermarket easier. Can’t really conjure the energy to resent it through a hangover”), and an atmosphere of saintly desperation that suggests “Trainspotting” redone as a darkened YA fable, the movie is wispy and meandering; it doesn’t gather power as it goes along. We’re shown, in the opening minutes, what’s eating away at Liusaidh: She comes up to a stone bridge that covers the railroad tracks and watches as her best friend, a sweet tormented gay kid named Alistair (Matthew Beard), tips himself off the bridge, an act of suicide that haunts the film.

Except that the sequence is a fantasy. It’s Liusaidh imagining Alistair’s suicide, which makes you think, for a moment, that maybe he’s still alive. (He’s not; we just don’t get to see his death that clearly.) The scenes with Alistair are flashbacks, and they’re the heart of the film. So why is Liusaidh so petulant and dissatisfied in them?

As moviegoers, we have to draw our conclusions from what’s on screen — from what Gillan, as a filmmaker, shows and tells us. And for most of “The Party’s Just Beginning,” what we see, in Liusaidh, is a young woman of caustic wit and surprising talent (she does rapturous riffs on the piano), with pale skin and parted-down-the-middle red hair, who doesn’t like the life she’s leading but never lifts a finger to try and change it. If this movie had been made in the ’90s, it would probably have been hand-cuffed to the gears and pulleys of some “crowd-pleasing” mechanical art-house plot about Liusaidh trying to better her situation by, you know, signing up the local pub (run by Robbie Coltrane! ) to compete in a “Most Pints Sold in a Day in Scotland” contest.

We can all thank the plough and the stars that that era of Miramax-meets-the-U.K. cutesy preciousness is over. But Gillan, in “The Party’s Just Beginning,” doesn’t necessarily come up with a satisfying replacement for it. She has made a downbeat comic drama that’s missing a psychological engine. Liusaidh is haunted by Alistair’s suicide, but her real problem is that she’s trapped in a world where she thinks she’s better than everyone else. If the film viewed this as a problem (the way that, say, “The Edge of Seventeen” did, with Hailee Steinfeld’s too-smart-for-her-own-good high-school outcast), it might have been compelling. But Gillan, as a filmmaker, indulges kneejerk youth superiority. We look at Liusaidh, obsessed with the drabness of her surroundings and with the free-floating indulgence of what is apparently a quarter-life crisis, and it’s hard to escape the feeling that she is, in fact, a princess. She’s a sparkling young woman who has nothing to lose but her chains of self-pity.

The film was shot in Gillan’s hometown of Inverness, where the suicide rate is chilling: One person, on average, takes his or her own life there every 10 days. That’s a stark statistic, but what is it about? Addiction? Economics? The film barely offers a clue (there’s one tossed-off reference to the bad employment situation). But there’s a mildly telling scene in which Liusaidh gets fired by her boss, Peter (Paul Tinto), because she skipped out on work five days in a row. At one point we saw her have sex with him in the bathroom, but now she says: Stop smiling! You’re too happy! Which makes you wonder if Inverness is a community where feeling good is a social crime. But we have to guess, because the film offers little sense of place except visually (sunless air, empty streets).

As it turns out, you don’t have to be an enemy of Liusaidh to set her on edge. She can’t stop haranguing Alistair’s boyfried, Ben (Jamie Quinn), for being a closeted member of the church. We’re supposed to experience this in the category of “enlightened indie film tweaks religion,” but it struck me as hugely intolerant — not of institutional repression, but of poor Ben, who if he isn’t ready to come out about his sexuality has every right to make that choice. Why does Liusaidh insist on making it for him? She shows more sympathy to Dale, a divorced British dad who becomes her lover for a short spell. He’s played by Lee Pace, who makes his presence felt, though what happens between these two is too fragmentary to take hold.

The film’s most compelling character is Alistair, played by Matthew Beard, who looks like Jonathan Richman and conjures a radiant sympathy for this cheeky, drug-addled fellow, who, as it turns out, is on his way to becoming transgender. When Liusaidh catches him with makeup on, he pours out his plans, which he has kept hidden even from Ben. But what he feels about them is also kept hidden from us. I suppose we should respect the fact that the film doesn’t explode into joyful fireworks and provide a false redemption for Alistair. But if you’re going to take on a subject like suicide, as inexplicable as it is, you’ve got to provide an audience with the balm of some kind of understanding. “The Party’s Just Beginning” wallows in a despair it remains naggingly detached from.

Film Review: 'The Party's Just Beginning'

Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Feature Narrative), April 23, 2018. Running time: 90 MIN.

Production: A Mt. Hollywood Films in association with Synchronicity Films production. Producers: Mali Elfman, Andru R. Davies, Claire Mundell. Executive producers: Boman Modine, Tien-Huei Grace Yeh, Sloan Martin, Albert Gersten.

Crew: Director, screenplay: Karen Gillan. Camera (color, widescreen): Edd Lukas. Editor: Brett W. Bachman. Music: Pepijn Caudron.

With: Karen Gillan, Matthew Beard, Lee Pace, Paul Higgins, Siobhan Redmond, Jamie Quinn, Rachel Jackson.

More Film

  • MGM logo

    MGM Hires Robert Marick to Expand Consumer Products

    Metro Goldwyn Mayer has hired industry veteran Robert Marick as executive VP of global consumer products and experiences. In his new role, Marick is responsible for overseeing the expansion of MGM’s traditional merchandise, interactive and consumer products business. He’s also developing a global strategy with a focus on core consumer products licensing, digital and gaming, [...]

  • Robert Iger and Rupert Murdochcredit: Disney

    Wall Street Applauds as Disney Nears Finish Line on Fox Acquisition

    Wall Street is rooting for Disney as the media giant reaches the finish line this week in its 15-month quest to acquire most of Rupert Murdoch’s film and TV empire. Fox shareholders, on the other hand, are being a little more cautious. Disney is poised to close the $71.3 billion deal that took many twists [...]

  • Personal Tales From Hong Kong, China

    Personal Tales From Hong Kong and China Among the Asia Film Financing Forum Projects

    A brace of personal tales from China and Hong Kong are among the 23 projects vying for attention at the 17th Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum. Liu Miaomiao is a rare female ethnic Hui Muslim filmmaker. She came to international prominence with 1993’s “Chatterbox” that won the President of the Italian Senate’s Gold Medal [...]

  • Josie Ho Makes 2019 the Year

    Josie Ho Makes 2019 the Year She Takes Risks in Her Film Choices

    Josie Ho vows to master the art of calculated risk in the year 2019. As an actress and film producer, she is conscious of the choices of projects she makes: appearing in the new film by Japanese hotshot director Shinichiro Ueda, producing a new documentary feature while developing some 10 titles in the pipeline of [...]

  • FilMart: Big Data, Content Key to

    FilMart: Big Data, Content Key to iQIYI's Online Ambitions

    Tech and data play a huge role for iQIYI, China’s second-largest streaming platform, as a way to innovate and step out ahead of its competitors, iQIYI founder and CEO Yu Gong explained in a keynote speech Monday at FilMart. “We don’t see a lot of innovation-driven entertainment companies yet. We want to be the one,” [...]

  • Ted Sarandos and Thierry Fremaux'Okja' photocall,

    Despite Ongoing Peace Talks, Netflix Won't Have Any Movies at Cannes 2019 (EXCLUSIVE)

    Although Netflix and the Cannes Film Festival continue quietly to negotiate a potential settlement to their differences, the streaming giant will be absent from the Croisette again this year with no film in or out of competition, Variety has learned. The ongoing talks between the two sides have been friendly, including a dinner in Los [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content