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Liusaidh (pronounced Lucy) is fine. She’s FINE. Her best friend Alistair (Matthew Beard) killed himself a year ago on Christmas Day, her mum (Siobhan Redmond) is a compulsive shopper, her dad (Paul Higgins) has no idea how to talk to her and her job is selling cheese. But she’s fine. She’s got this down. Every night’s the same; go out, sing, get drunk, get some chips, get some sex, walk past the spot where Alistair died and hallucinate it all over again. A drunkenly methodical removal of scar tissue. Grief as penance and self destruction. Until her routine starts to break and Liusaidh must decide what matters most; the pain or the chance of it ending.
Karen Gillen writes, directs and stars and impresses in all three roles. Liusaidh is a magnificent, arms wide, screaming ball of flamboyant pain, rage and horror. From the opening, ‘Choose Life’ refuting karaoke monologue to the closing two words, Gillen the writer gives Gillen the actress some great work to do. Liusaidh is in agony, trapped in the final days of her friends’ life and convinced her’s means so little because he left her behind. The pull of the bridge where he jumped is magnetic, the grief never quite overtaking the fascination, the sense of curiosity. Underpinning all of it is the constant burning need of the small town kid to be literally anywhere besides where they are. It’s just for Alistair and Liusaidh, the other options involve suicide.
From Gillen’s dead eyes and ash dry comic timing to the moments where she finally opens up, time and again the central performance here anchors you. This is what grief is like, especially when you hit it too young. It becomes a processing fault on the film of your life, a thing you can never look past. Liusaidh returns to the scene again and again not just because she’s fascinated, or drawn there, she returns there because it’s all she can see. The suburban banality of her neighborhood, Liusaidh’s other obsession, breaks everyone in the end. She broke a year ago. She’s still there. Jamming chips into her face and her face into the nearest man’s mouth because if she eats, fucks and drinks enough, the pain drops down to a dull roar. For a while.
|Then, just as Gillen the writer and actress have stopped surprising but continued to impress you, Gillen the director takes over. The moment Liusaidh sees Dale (A softly spoken, and if anything a touch under used Lee Pace). standing where Alistair did you feel her reality and that of the movie shudder. She’s about to see it happen. She’s about to be able to stop it. If she can. If she wants to.Hallucination and reality become one and the same even as they stand apart and Liusaidh learns her next, hard, lesson:|
Grief doesn’t change. Until it does.
That grief is the axis of the movie and the second half explores not only why Alistair killed himself but what Liusaidh is doing without him and the events that led up to his suicide. Both explores lives filled with miniature disasters and minor catastrophes, punctuated by massive, epochal disaster. Her mum buys a new sofa just to impress friends who barely notice it (Friends who, in a lovely piece of meta-fiction, are basically Scottish actress royalty), her dad fumbles an attempt at an actual conversation. She’s sexually assaulted. In the past, we see Alistair, in the process of transitioning, punched in the face for dressing like who he really is. Nothing is easy or tidy or safe, besides the illusion of safety that comes from doing the same thing every day, over and over.
But nothing stands still either. As the movie ends Liusaidh has opened a door and chosen to go through it. The door isn’t closed behind her. The chances of her staying aren’t high. But they aren’t zero either. The fumbling kindness of her parents, her own desperate attempts to reach out and the way that her ghosts slowly, but definitively, fade all tell her one thing; that this is a process and one she’s going through whether she wants to or not.
Uncompromising, bloody furious and deeply kind. The Party’s Only Just Beginning is one Hell of a debut and is available to buy and stream now. Be advised, as I say, there is both sexual assault and bigotry here but it’s all in service of a story that needs it, rather than needs to revel in it.