While you're wringing your hands in worry over Karen Gillan's Nebula in April's Avengers: Infinity War, know that the actor has something personal coming down the pike that will mess with your emotions in a totally different way. Making its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, Gillan's feature writing/directorial debut The Party's Just Beginning is a coming of age story set in the aftermath of a friend's suicide, and it's a complex take on grief not normally shown on-screen.
"Something that I think a lot of people who have dealt with the loss of someone in this particular way, through suicide... is they have a hard time remembering the good times," says Gillan, who also stars in the movie. "It's something you have to work towards."
About six years ago, she decided to write a feature length screenplay relating to death and grief, having previously wrote and directed two short films in 2015. "There was this statistic that stuck in my head from a little before that which said the suicide rates in the Highlands of Scotland were significantly higher in young men than the rest of Scotland," said Gillan. (According to The Inverness Courier, that rate was actually rising as of 2017 when the film was shot.) "That just struck me as so strange," she continues, "because I grew up there and it's idyllic and beautiful and picturesque and why do we have this dark fact looming over us?"
The juxtaposition felt fitting for Gillan, who says that dark subject matters are something she has been "naturally drawn to as far back as [she] can remember", despite describing herself as optimistic and cheerful. And that interest let to The Party's Just Beginning, which centers around Lucy, short for Liusaidh, who becomes lost when she witnesses her best friend's suicide. She clings to two characters, one played by Gillan's Guardians of the Galaxy costar Lee Pace, in an attempt to save them after she couldn't save her friend. Eventually, she accepts the help she needs in order to move on, but it's not without severe struggle.
What makes the film stand out in the film is the depth of Lucy's character as she deals with her heartbreak, especially in the scenes involving Pace's Dale, a middle-aged man who finds meaning and momentary comfort in the quirky, younger Lucy. He affectionately calls her "a mess," blissfully unaware of her own demons for most of their relationship. We've seen this film and this manic pixie dream girl stereotype a thousand times, but what The Party's Just Beginning does differently is take that cliché and flip it around, showing a truth in the mirror. Lucy may seem odd to Dale, but her story and her perspective is a lot darker than he initially knows.
"That was one of the main reasons that [producer Mali Elfman] wanted to help me tell this story... she said that she hadn't seen this perspective very much on screen," Gillan says now of defying those cliches. "Whereas I did not make a conscious effort to do that. I didn't even think about that. It was more vaguely how can I tell the story from point of view. So it feels nuanced and detailed and specific."
Just the fact that the film is a coming of age story about a young woman is practically revolutionary when it comes to representation in film. Lucy is complex, flawed, and realistic, and as a result, The Party's Just Beginning is both an exploration of grief in a general sense and a specific story of a girl who feels traumatized and left behind by her loved ones.
"I think that a key part of what drives the character is wanting to be needed by someone," says Gillan. "I think that [Lucy] always thought she would be the one to save her best friend, and when she didn't manage to do that, it [became] a huge reason why she's unable to confront her emotions towards it and deal with it."
As an emotional study of grief, a story featuring a complicated female protagonist, and as a first time outing for a director you probably already loved as an actor on screen, The Party's Just Beginning will stand out in your mind as a haunting, powerful tale — and one that might just change the ways we think about death and the people it can leave behind.