Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World” could very well be labeled a rom-com but do not expect the type of film that moniker suggests. This is one with relatable romantic situations, great characters and exuberance.
Julie (Norway’s Renate Reinsve) is somewhere in her twenties where love life and career are in constant flux.
As the opening titles tell us, the film will follow Julie’s life in 12 chapters (including a prologue and epilogue). At the beginning, Julie’s boyfriend is Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), a man who is a bit older. Her boyfriend writes comics (of sorts) that are highly sexist, which bothers Julie. There’s chemistry between these two but Julie flirts with Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), whom she meets after she crashes a wedding.
In her unfocused academic life, Julie moves from biology to a psychology graduate program, finally wanting to be a photographer. The character is never happy with her lot in life, always a bit internally restless, which leads to instability.
Renate Reinsve is perfect as Julie. The actress makes some smart choices in portraying her character’s frustration with life. Trier’s screenplay uses Julie as a reflection of the kind of self-pitying Millennial angst that we see so much of today.
Reinsve is natural and makes Julie fully believable seemingly without trying. The character is charming, funny, frustrating, selfish, clever, and warm, all in equal measure. We all know someone like Julie and the depth Reinsve brings to the role was refreshingly honest.
As we follow Julie into her thirties, the film becomes something of a coming of age late in life picture. By crafting his main character’s life into chapters, the film (and this is not meant to be seen as a negative) becomes anecdotal. Each situation Julie finds herself in is certainly familiar, but this structure allows Trier’s work to move fluidly between comedy and drama, sometimes with each one being offered hand in hand.
Trier and co-screenwriter Eskil Vogt’s screenplay is many things but is never bogged down by one theme. This is a smart film about navigating life and relationships, settling our own restlessness and the predictability of aging. The filmmaker stumbles only with the inclusion of an unnecessary cancer subplot that slows things down.
Everyone should remember their twenties. For most, it is a time in life where we are defined by our relationships. It becomes how we measure our successes and failures. Julie is very much this type of person, but her mind seems to be telling her it is time to redefine her sense of self. She begins to see herself (or desires to) as a strong woman. As she reaches her thirties and takes control of her adulthood, the character and film become even more engrossing.
Trier’s creativity leads to many a wildly original and inventive moment.
A third-person narrator intervenes during an important moment between Julie and Aksel. It is a moment that films have given us time and time again. The narrator seems to desire for a deeper take in their conversation and gives it to the audience.
One of the best is a sequence where Julie finds herself in a partially animated world courtesy of tripping on mushrooms. The moment is fun and lite and, for those who have so indulged, spot on.
Trier, Reinsve, and Lie find honesty and purity in Julie, Askel, and the film.
Anders Danielsen Lie gives a powerfully moving performance as Askel, a man who thinks life is flowing nicely but is suddenly upended. He feels how he is not as deeply connected to Julie’s heart as he once had been. In one of the film’s best lines, Askel tells her, “I don’t want to be a memory for you.” The line at its place in the scheme of their relationship is deeply moving, as is Lie’s excellent work.
“The Worst Person in the World” uses its title to reflect the self-doubt of those in their twenties. In this age of millennials constantly searching for acceptance from everyone else (including strangers), Trier’s film shows a woman who desperately needs to accept herself, flaws, and all.
This marvelous film is a fractured look at one person’s highs and lows and mistakes and good decisions.
As Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”