The rise of Karen Gillan in the last decade has frankly been nothing short of impressive. Having come to prominence as Amy Pond in Doctor Who alongside Matt Smith, she’s gone on to feature in two of the top ten highest grossing movies of all time (namely Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame), as well as starring in two significant Hollywood franchises (Guardians Of The Galaxy and Jumanji, with the sequel – Jumanji: The Next Level – due out imminently). Some pretty impressive credentials, all things considered.
However, it appears that Gillan’s ambitions don’t just end with acting in some of the biggest and most popular movies of the moment, and she’s got aspirations to stretch herself creatively in other areas. The upshot of this is her feature film debut as both writer and director, as well as appearing on screen in the lead role. The Party’s Just Beginning – initially announced as Tupperware Party, until some legal wranglings over the Tupperware brand name scuppered that title – is the product of around three years of hard graft on what’s been a labour of love for Gillan, around her other, more mainstream projects.
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Gillan is Liusaidh (pronounced Lucy), a 24 year old woman who lives with her parents in Inverness. Her life was torn apart a year earlier, when her best friend Alistair (Matthew Beard) killed himself following the death of his father and the breakup of a relationship. Since then, Liusaidh has been trying to cope not just with her grief and guilt, but also being stuck in a dead-end job working on a supermarket deli counter, by spending her evenings filled with an endless cycle of drunkenness, casual sex with random strangers, and chips, but nothing seems to block out the endless pain and despair.
Just as she‘s going through the throes of a quarterlife crisis, one of Liusaidh‘s anonymous trysts (Lee Pace) ends up tracking her down, and they start to form a bond, until it becomes clear he’s working through his own issues, and has hit his midlife crisis. Liusaidh is also struggling to try and communicate with her parents over just how she’s feeling, particularly her mother (Siobhan Redmond), who’s wholly focused on being a social climber. Liusaidh ends up forming an unlikely connection with an old man (Ralph Riach) who dialled a wrong number, and is struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife.
Gillan has been able to simultaneously produce a love letter to her home town of Inverness, yet also managed to raise the important social issues that are facing the Highlands of Scotland, tackling head-on high rates of substance abuse and suicide in the region. All due credit must be given to Gillan for managing not to shy away from this, as she could have portrayed a sanitised view of the area, but she instead chooses to give a frank and honest look at things. It’s less cartoonish and far more believable than Trainspotting, which would be the obvious movie with which to make a comparison, and the characters in this are more compelling and fleshed-out.
Also unlike Trainspotting, the dialogue feels credible, and not full of the sort of lines which feel just too polished, or artificial when tripping off the tongues of the characters, instead of how you would expect people to talk in real life. What speaks loudest at times in the script, however, are the moments of silence: long pauses and periods where Liusaidh is simply contemplating or reacting, and these periods of quiet speak more deeply about her as a person than all her public bluster and bravado. It helps us to get an insight into just how damaged she truly is deep down, and how much she’s struggling to cope with things, or move on.
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For a film which isn’t set in one of Scotland’s ‘sexy’ cities (as Glasgow and Edinburgh tend to grab all the attention when it comes to most films set north of the border), you might almost expect this to look rather monochromatic or drab in comparison. However, Gillan knows her home turf intimately, and knows exactly how to bring out the beauty of Inverness. She contrasts the dullness of suburbia with the shots of Inverness at night, being full of colourful lights and vibrancy, making it seem visually alluring and enticing in a most surprising way. She even manages to make something as mundane as a flyover look interesting by how she frames and shoots it, so she certainly has a keen eye.
It certainly an impressive first outing for Gillan behind the camera, and she’s delivered a feature which is heartfelt and earnest, as well as darkly comic at times. Should she ever choose at some point in the future to step away from her acting career and focus instead on writing and/or directing, then on the strength of this film alone, it shows that for Karen Gillan, the party really is just beginning.
The Party’s Just Beginning is out now on digital and at selected cinemas.