Karen Gillan could be excused for resting on her laurels as the unfancied Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle barrels towards a billion dollars and with Avengers: Infinity War on the horizon, instead she’s chosen to write, direct and star in her own feature film, The Party’s Just Beginning.
In the remote outpost of Inverness, in the Scottish Highlands, the male suicide rate is high and Gillan, who grew up in the city, looks to try and imagine the reasons behind this tragic statistic that blights her hometown. Gillan plays Luisaidh, a cheese monger at a supermarket who is coping with the fallout of her best friends recent suicide. Luisaidh, or Lucy to others, finds her life start to spiral into despair and filling it with drink, drugs, chip and regressing into herself.
The movie is a combination of visual energy, broad Scottish comedy and accents, supporting characters and plotlines which feel underdeveloped, and independent cinema clichés. All these ideas make what could be quite a powerful movie feel lightweight. A drama examining the Scottish male suicide rate could be very poignant but the creative choices, perhaps particularly viewing it through female eyes, just doesn’t work.
With one male who throws himself off a famous suicide spot and another that comes down, these characters that could provide real insight are under served and the impact of their actions are viewed through Lucy. One of the suicide victims, Alistair, is struggling with homosexuality and gender identity as he clashes with his male partner who is struggling to come out, as an esteemed member of the church. The scenes with Alistair and Lucy showcase Gillan’s writing and directing at its best as they feel intimate and you get a real sense of a relationship between these two lost souls.
The films plotting was originally a very straight line but in the editing process, the two different timelines were threaded in and out of each other, and this choice can make the moving jarring, as it becomes somewhat challenging to tell which smaller moments belong when. Lucy’s home phone number is one digit different from a suicide prevention helpline, usually dismissive and pointing the caller in the right direction. Lucy sparks a therapeutic relationship with an elderly widow who is feeling suicidal around the Christmas. The plot is quite emotional, considering Christmas is a peak time of year for suicides and as we hear Lucy and the elderly gentleman trading their woes and some helpful advice, but it vanishes in the middle of the film.
Another plot which arrives undercooked and then vanishes in the middle is a relationship between Lucy and an out of towner, Dale, who is in Inverness for some reason. Dale has experienced a painful divorce and has little meaningful contact with his daughter. Lucy and Dale appear to find each other at the right time as their lives unravel. As Lucy sees Dale off at the train station, he later appears to have back peddled and appears at the suicide hotspot before being talked down and a day letter being sent on his merry way back to England. Likewise, a drunken Lucy at one point is sexually assaulted by three men in a very uncomfortable rape scene in a bedsit. Lucy, like many of her troubles, bats this off with humour when raising it on the phone with her older companion but the seriousness and shock value of this scene are glossed over with ease. The impact of a shocking crime and assault is dismissed, a creative decision that baffled this audience member.
Gillan’s debut is to be admired as it makes a bold gambit and tries to be many different things to many different people, but the wide scope of stories, characters and ideas result in very few choices outside of Gillan’s acting lacking any real impact, and the insight into its key question, just why are so many men killing themselves in the Scottish Highlands, starts to get lost.