The Party's Just Beginning ★★★★

What’s the line between risky and ridiculous? Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that, categories aside, I have no idea what I value in art. Sometimes a plodding pace is “subtle” and “wonderfully naturalistic”, others it’s “pointless” and “inert.” Sometimes in-your-face emotion and over-the-top themes are “obvious” or (the worst of the bunch) “ham-fisted”, others they’re “earnest”, “bold”, and “deeply felt.” For all my attempts at phrasing things properly, at the end of the day it’s a mostly pointless exercise. My ideal film is like jazz, or porn, or a color clash: I’m not sure what defines it, but I know it when I see it.

The Party’s Just Beginning (4/5), written and directed by its lead Karen Gillan (Jumanji, Guardians of the Galaxy) is by no account a subtle film. A synth-laden blitz through depression and alcoholism among the disillusioned Scottish youth, it echoes all my favorite aspects of the mid-nineties Glasgow scene: the profane irreverence of Trainspotting, the everything-is-meaningless-so-pour-another-dram sadcore of Arab Strap. Intentional tonal dissonance; a funeral dirge you can dance to. In her few words before the screening, Gillan described the film as her attempt to grapple with the inordinately high rate of suicide in her hometown of Inverness. But from the bold pink karaoke title sequence to the myriad scenes of stylized death, it’s clear that she has no intention of giving us an even-handed portrait of of the subject — though it’s also clear that she isn’t being intentionally divisive. Instead, she’s reaching for top shelf melodramatic phrases as a proxy for more common feelings: finding yourself down on your luck, out of prospects, unable to connect to others. In that sense, it’s hard not to compare this to another directorial debut by a beloved comic actor: Zach Braff's Garden State. Like Braff with mental illness, Gillan may rightly be criticized for going too big too often; for using wild dramatic arcs as a sort of emotional shorthand rather than tackling them head-on. She also, like Braff, is just too damn earnest to let that sort of criticism weigh her down. One wonders if a filmmaker with a gentler hand would even be capable of depicting the restless highs and lows of young adulthood; is it possible to emote immaturity without, on some level, sharing in it? Her nuance may be off, but her heart is very much in the right place, here — which is to say, bleeding.

I can’t adequately defend it, but I very much enjoyed this debut. It was vivacious, intense, and unlike anything else I saw at the festival. Chris and I debate The Party’s Just Beginning in another Tribeca episode of The Spoiler Warning.