At the beginning of versatile Scottish actress Karen Gillan’s debut feature as a writer-director, “The Party’s Just Beginning,” we might be forgiven for looking upon Liusaidh (Gillan) as just another callously hedonistic, snarky 20-something.
In the opening scenes, she uses her karaoke time to hilariously philosophize to the nightclub crowd about life’s emptiness (to drunken boos), then indulges in some nameless sex, and on her way home, appears to shrug in response to a young man jumping off a bridge. The reality, though, is that Liusaidh, who lives with her parents, is a deeply troubled soul flailing in the wake of the suicide of her best friend Alistair (Matthew Beard) a year ago.
Gillan, returning to her Highlands roots to spotlight a depressingly high suicide rate there among young people, has not only given herself an expectedly meaty role that walks a fine line between sad and bitterly funny, but she’s proven to be a director with a keen eye for expressive visuals. Playing with visions, flashbacks and reckless behavior, Gillan turns Liusaidh into a magnetic conduit for grief and grit as we learn more about her relationship with Alistair, watch her handle a fling with a traveling businessman (Lee Pace), and develop a phone friendship with an elderly gentleman on the brink of ending his own life.
The movie’s sneaky theme is anonymity as our 21st century cure-all for the burden of knowing too much and yet wondering if we really know anyone at all.
‘The Party’s Just Beginning’
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Playing: Starts Dec. 7, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; available on VOD Dec. 11