The Worst Person in the World, 2021.
Directed by Joachim Trier.
Starring Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie, Herbert Nordrum, Maria Grazia Di Meo, Hans Olav Brenner, Marianne Krogh, Helene Bjørnebye, Vidar Sandem, Anna Dworak, Thea Stabell, Deniz Kaya, Lasse Gretland, Karen Røise Kielland, Karla Nitteberg Aspelin, Sofia Schandy Bloch, Savannah Marie Schei, Eia Skjønsberg, and Ruby Dagnall.
Chronicles four years in the life of Julie, a young woman who navigates the troubled waters of her love life and struggles to find her career path, leading her to take a realistic look at who she really is.
It’s up for debate whether or not Julie (a stunningly empathetic complex revelatory turn from Renate Reinsve) is the worst person in the world, but she starts as one of the most indecisive, with a prologue depicting her going through numerous study and career changes within 10 minutes. Director Joachim Trier (co-writing alongside Eskil Vogt and finishing up his Oslo trilogy of independent films tackling similar themes) establishes some of Julie’s interests (psychology, photography, sex) with a sense of humor as she enters a relationship with workaholic comic book artist Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie, a regular collaborator of the filmmaker delivering his best performance to date), in his early forties and roughly ten years her senior.
Aksel expresses that if they become more serious, it likely won’t last because they are in different stages of their lives, but it’s not enough to stop the magnetism. From there, Julie finds herself happy in ways yet also leaving an unfulfilling life, with Aksel bringing up hopes of having children someday. That’s just a tiny sample of what The Worst Person in the World tackles in regards to relationships (the film is initially described as 12 chapters of Julie’s life with a prologue and epilogue, taking place over four years), as the script continuously peels away that Julie while exploring life, love, loss, family issues, gender roles, political correctness, eroticism, and perhaps one of the most human looks at the notion of cheating on one’s partner (I’m not saying anyone does or doesn’t, but the option is there).
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that due to Julie’s already mentioned indecisiveness and lack of career direction, not to mention Aksel seemingly unable to match her sex drive, not necessarily giving her enough emotional attention, and being busy in the spotlight (his comic is getting adapted into an animated feature, although it’s been stripped of its crudeness and edge which is not happy about, in turn, further hampering his focus on the relationship), and of course, the age gap, that she might second-guess being together. However, this is realized with a brilliant touch of magical realism, a beautiful sequence of a passenger taking over the driver’s seat in the car of life. The script is sharp with rich performances that allow an engrossing lived-in feel, but the imaginative visual detours (including a drug trip where Julie somewhat confronts a strained relationship with her father and the effects pregnancy and aging could potentially have on her body, culminating in a moment both nasty and empowering) elevate intricacies of the drama.
Without getting too specific, Julie does befriend the already partnered Elvind (Herbert Nordrum, also giving a fantastic and delicate performance), who is more her age but lacks the ambition of Aksel. Julie’s life is a mess for pretty much every second of the 130-minute running time, but there’s a line in the film about how sometimes the best is messy, which is a sentiment palpably felt here. That’s not to say every creative choice in The Worst Person in the World, as convenient events occasionally happen and I’m not entirely sold on one aspect that is tossed into the mix during the third act.
Such decisions would probably sink other romantic dramedies, but again, Renate Reinsve is an absolute delight here. Every single actor gives such naturalistic and compelling turns that even when the story feels like it’s slipping away from Joachim Trier, it’s not. The messiness is simply enhancing the art. The Worst Person in the World is thoughtfully constructed, proud of its flawed characters with unquantifiable amounts of empathy, steamy, hilarious, and above all else, life-affirming.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com