Since launching herself on the small screen in Doctor Who, Karen Gillan has become something of a chameleon on the big one. Most familiar as the embittered Nebula in Guardians Of The Galaxy and the final instalments of Marvel’s Avengers saga, she reprises her role in yet another successful franchise, Jumanji, in just a couple of weeks’ time, as well as lending her voice to animation Spies In Disguise over the holiday. Before that, however, she offers something completely different and with a much smaller budget. The writer and director of her first feature, The Party’s Just Beginning, which takes her back to her childhood stomping ground of Inverness.
Winter in the north of Scotland is pitiless and bleak. It matches Liusaidh’s (Gillan) – pronounced Lucy’s – frame of mind as she struggles to recover from the suicide of her closest friend. Overwhelmed by grief and loneliness, she self-medicates with alcohol, meaningless sex and takeaway food, unable to escape vivid memories of Alistair (Matthew Beard). Nothing makes any difference – not the tablets from her GP, her parents nor her supermarket job and, surrounded by echoes of the past, she flounders as she tries to find her way and, more importantly, somebody to talk to and make life feel worthwhile again.
All of which is a bleak scenario, especially given Gillan’s perceptive writing and acting in depicting her character’s depression. She’s also an excellent storyteller in the minimalist tradition, understanding all too well that just one look, one sound, one image is all that’s needed to tell an entire story or create a complete character and she uses that talent to great effect here. But she’s not devoid of humour – quite the opposite. Despite the inherent sadness of the narrative, it also has a broad vein of humour, from the ironic and downright dark to the bittersweet. There’s a running joke about her parent’s landline number being confused with the one for a hotline – a nuisance, until Liusaidh answers the phone to a lonely old man and they strike up a conversation. Ironically, she needs a helpline as much as he does, and they find themselves helping each other. And the film’s title speaks for itself.
While this is very much Gillan’s project, the supporting cast has plenty of opportunities to shine, especially Matthew Beard as the best friend, conflicted over relationships and his own sexuality, and Lee Pace, perhaps one of the most underrated actors around at the moment, as an enigmatic stranger who may – or may not – offer a Liusaidh a chance of finding a place where she feels she belongs. In truth, they all have their demons and attempt to deal with them, with varying degrees of success, but they’re never allowed to wallow in sentiment or wintery slush.
Memory and reality blur and overlap regularly. At the outset, it’s a little confusing but the jigsaw pieces eventually fit together to give a satisfying conclusion, one with just a glimmer of light. It’s a human story, told with compassion, insight and wry humour, signposting Gillan’s talent as a director. That side of her career is just beginning.
Drama, Comedy | Cert: 15 | Blue Finch Film Releasing | UK, 1 December 2019 | Dir. Karen Gillan | Karen Gillan, Lee Pace, Matthew Beard, Paul Higgins, Siobhan Redmond.