Paying tribute to her hometown, The Party’s Just Beginning marks the feature debut for actress Karen Gillan.
From her previous works, we already knew that Karen Gillan was a talented actor. What the The Party’s Just Beginning does is put her on the map as a rising talent to watch as both a director and screenwriter. Gillan uses the suicide rates in the Highlands of Scotland in which she bases the narrative. Luisadh (Gillan) is still suffering on the inside with regards to her coping strategies and how to best move forward in the months to come.
Luisadh, who works behind the deli counter at a grocery store, continually relies on her wit and sarcasm in response to Alistair’s suicide. It takes her into a complete crisis and she shuts down as far as being able to connect with friends or family. She just isn’t able to escape what she saw–Alistair jumping onto the train tracks below the bridge to their death below.
As a way of trying to move on, she attempts a relationship with Dale (Lee Pace). Dale is going through a crisis of his own when they meet so the two are perfect for each other in that regard. In the meantime, an older gentleman (Ralph Riach) keeps calling her phone number because it’s so close to that of a help line. With the frequent calls, the two develop a phone relationship.
Still, neither Dale or the man on the phone are able to give Luisadh what she truly needs. She needs to be able to get to the point in which she can start accepting that Alistair is dead and move on knowing her best friend has departed.
There’s a pivotal moment in the film when Luisadh walks in on her best friend, Alistair (Matthew Beard), and notices her friend in makeup and holding a wig in their hands. Alistair uses that moment to come out as transgender and wanting to be a woman. There’s the talk of visiting a doctor for hormones and being told to live full time for a year as a woman before the operation. Alistair also says that they like the name, Ali or Alice. I’m using they/them pronouns when referring to Alistair throughout because I honestly don’t know which pronouns or name to use. It’s clear that Alistair wants to go through with the transition.
While Luisadh is supportive, Alistair’s boyfriend, the church-going Ben (Jamie Quinn) isn’t supporting and immediately breaks off the relationship. Ben may have been the supportive friend when he thought Alistair was gay. When Alistair comes out as transgender, Ben couldn’t run away quick enough.
The film plays into a few tropes when it comes to the depiction of the transgender community. Honestly, it made me uncomfortable while screening the film. If not for these brief scenes, we would never have known that there was a transgender character. It’s not in the trailer at all and when it does happen in the film, it’s more of an after thought. Like really?!? While playing up the suicide rates in the Highlands of Scotland, the character that ends up dead is transgender. It makes sense when you think about it given that the transgender suicide rate roughly 40%. On the other hand, the visions of her friend are as she knew them rather than who they really were.
There are things to like about the film, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that I’ve got a very problematic way in how trans lives are depicted. Luisadh may be supportive of her friend’s transition. That being said, she doesn’t remember her friend in that way. This is a big fear for so many in the trans community. We fear that we’re not remembered in the way we want to be. It’s unfortunate that the film chooses to go in this direction. Why can’t Luisadh remember her friend as Ali or Alice?
It’s a solid feature debut for Gillan, who planned every shot of the film with cinematographer Edd Lukas. Starting off with a musical number, “A,” was a solid choice in storytelling. Give credit to Gillan for shooting the small indie film before immediately going into production on Avengers: Infinity War.
Told in a heartfelt way with Gillan proving to be a triple threat, The Party’s Just Beginning is a love letter to Scotland.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Karen Gillan
CAST: Karen Gillan, Lee Pace, Matthew Beard, Paul Higgins, Siobhan Redmond, Jamie Quinn, Rachel Jackson, and Ralph Riach