×
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.

Director:
Karen Gillan
With:
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

  • UGC Distribution Closes on Mariano Cohn’s

    Ventana Sur: UGC Distribution Closes Market Hit ‘4 x 4’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — UGC Distribution has beaten out all other suitors to clinch what had became by Friday morning the most anticipated deal of this year’s Ventana Sur market: All rights to France on Argentine Mariano Cohn’s “4 x 4,” sold by Latido Films and distributed throughout Argentina by Disney. After mounting speculation about which [...]

  • Aquaman 2018

    Film News Roundup: 'Aquaman' Hits $152 Million at International Box Office

    In today’s film news roundup, “Aquaman” has already grossed more than $150 million outside the U.S., Michael Masini joins “Birds of Prey,” and Freestyle buys the documentary “Shamanic Trekker.” BOX OFFICE More Reviews Tallinn Film Review: 'Winter's Night' TV Review: 'Vanity Fair' Warner Bros.’ tentpole “Aquaman” has taken in $152 million overseas in 36 markets, [...]

  • 'Winter's Night' Review: Enigmatic, Offbeat Korean

    Tallinn Film Review: 'Winter's Night'

    There are thousands of films about love’s beginning, and a great many about love’s end. But far fewer deal with a relationship’s late-middle: the spreading, sluggish delta of coupledom when decades of familiarity, if they have not bred contempt, at least threaten irritation. “Winter’s Night,” Jang Woo-jin’s playfully melancholic third feature, after the acclaimed “A [...]

  • Tomasz Kot UTA

    UTA Signs ‘Cold War’ Star Tomasz Kot (EXCLUSIVE)

    UTA has signed “Cold War” star Tomasz Kot. He has appeared in more than 30 films and 26 plays as well as dozens of television series. More Reviews Tallinn Film Review: 'Winter's Night' TV Review: 'Vanity Fair' Most recently, Kot has received award-season buzz for his starring role as Wiktor in Pawel Pawlikowski’s feature “Cold [...]

  • Kenneth Branagh's 'All Is True' Opening

    Kenneth Branagh's 'All Is True' Opening Palm Springs Film Festival

    The 30th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival will open on Jan. 3 with historical drama “All Is True,” starring Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, and Ian McKellen. Branagh, who will be in attendance at the opening night screening, directed from Ben Elton’s script about the little-known period in the final years of William Shakespeare. Branagh [...]

  • Actor and Activist Rodney Kageyama Dies

    Actor and Activist Rodney Kageyama Dies at 77

    Actor, activist and influentials member of the Japanese American community, Rodney Kageyama, died in his sleep Dec. 9. He was 77. The SAG member was known for roles in “Karate Kid IV” with Hillary Swank, Ron Howard’s film “Gung Ho” and the spinoff sitcom, and the TV movie “Hiroshima: Out of the Ashes” with Max [...]

  • Most Popular Films 2018: The Best

    9 Holiday Gift Ideas Inspired by This Year's Most Popular Films

    From superheroes to super nannies, 2018 was a year full of memorable characters — and memorable movies. Whether you’re a big film buff, an avid follower of a popular franchise, or have a couple movie fans in your life, here are nine gifts that capture the fun of some of this year’s biggest films. 1. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content