It has been almost a year since her best friend Matthew (Matthew Beard) committed suicide and Lucy (Karen Gillan) is feeling lonelier than ever. Whether isolated behind the cheese counter at her local supermarket or exiled in her perfectly preserved childhood room while her parents redecorate downstairs, she cuts a lonely figure; her excursions to the local pub always leading her back to the site of his death. However, when a misdialled number puts her in contact with an elderly widower and a supposed one night stand tracks her down at work she can finally begin to reconcile her feelings and put her friend’s memory to rest.
A lot has changed since Karen Gillan brought Not Another Happy Ending to the 2013 Edinburgh Film Festival, where it was roundly (and in its case rightly) dismissed as fatuous and insincere, not least her choice of venue. Previously best known for her companionable role in Doctor Who, Gillan has since gone on to appear in two Guardians in the Galaxy movies and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, while her next film – Avengers: Infinity War – promises to be one of the biggest releases of all time. She has even transitioned behind the camera, and her debut as both writer and director is nominated for the Audience Award at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival.
The Party’s Just Beginning couldn’t be more removed from Not Another Happy Ending, though to begin with there is a distinct sense that it might simply be another misstep in a different direction. Far from pandering to its audience the opening scene is more likely to repel them, as a drunken Lucy rants incomprehensibly about the meaning of life and the nature of reality to a clearly disinterested crowd before storming out to instead have sex with a stranger in an ally. Needless to say, when it’s later revealed that Lucy’s feeling alienated and alone it doesn’t exactly come as a surprise – it’s almost as though the film’s daring its audience to reject her, just like everyone else.
If Gillan’s character — and, it must be said, occasionally her performance — seems caricatured and histrionic it is in contrast to the film’s portrayal of Inverness and its other inhabitants. As a writer Gillan has surrounded her protagonist with characters who serve to humanise her while as director she has put together an ensemble who help to highlight her best qualities as an actress. The scenes she shares with Rachel Jackson’s plucky and pragmatic Donna are some of the film’s most recognisable and well observed, while an unrecognisable Lee Pace and an irreproachable Matthew Beard conspire to give the film some real nuance and depth as a father who can no longer provide for his parents and a man who no longer identifies as such. In their scenes together Gillan shines, and the film finds a real power.
As erratic and overwrought as its protagonist, The Party’s Just Beginning is as quietly profound as it is curiously problematic. Gillan has produced a film that subtly explores loneliness and isolation, sexuality and gender norms, but which can also seem patronising, reductive and counter-productive when it becomes more explicit – as in the case of Lucy’s accidental caller or its curious treatment of a sexual assault. On the whole, though, it’s something of a success, particularly in terms of Scottish cinema. The film may open with an image of Urquhart Castle but it is the scenes set at the supermarket, the local chippy and smoking cigarettes out of Donna’s bedroom window that give the story the grounding it needs.