THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD (2021)
A young woman 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.
The Worst Person in the World / Verdens verste menneske centres on Julie (a breathtaking Renate Reinsve), a woman in her late-twenties struggling to know what she wants from life. She starts as a medical student before switching to psychology and then photography, then ultimately ends up working in a bookshop. Julie’s waiting for something, but she’s not quite sure what…
Julie is the perfect avatar for a 21st-century millennial woman. She’s overwhelmed by how many choices there are in life and how one little decision will define how she’ll live. Director Joachim Trier and co-writer Eskil Vogt, tell her life in twelve chapters, plus a prologue and epilogue, with each chapters focusing on key moments in Julie’s coming of age, as her 30th birthday hurtles towards her.
You’d be forgiven in thinking The Worst Person in the World is another rambling drama about millennials who screw up their lives thanks to ill-considered choices and the luxury of having options in their comfortable middle-class existence. Despite an omniscient voiceover that meanders through Julie’s many ill-fated encounters, Norwegian Trier, who previously brought us nuanced melodramas like Oslo, August 31st (2011), understands compassion and humanity too much to take a cheap shot at a lost generation.
At its core, The Worst Person in the World is about romance, but not love. Julie’s indecisiveness bleeds over into her love life. After hookups with her professor and a model, she finds herself torn between her long-time partner Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie) and acquaintance Eivind (Hebert Nordrum). The age difference between Julie and Aksel create a rift. He has family and children on his mind, which to Julie are just a distant ‘maybe’. So, when Eivind appears into her life in the form of a barista at a party, she can’t help but wonder whether he’s the right choice for her. They play a cat-and-mouse game of not-cheating, seeing how intimate they can be without touching. Whether the non-sexual form of intimacy is worse than cheating is up to you to decide. Aksel is her soulmate, if Julie ever believed in such a concept, yet Eivind is socially better suited to her, even if their relationship has no foundation to keep it straight.
The Worst Person in the World wouldn’t work without Reinsve as Julie. She’s given the challenge of playing a hundred different versions of the same person, all with their own nuances, dreams, and quirks. It’s no easy feat to perfect such an inconsistent person from one chapter to another, maturing and then receding for no particular reason. Her eyes dart around scenes, trying to find something to focus on. Despite her many negative character traits, it’s difficult not to root for Julie, probably because you know her or someone like her.
Julie should be a ‘manic pixie dream girl’; a Carrie Bradshaw type musing through life until she lands on something. She crashes the weddings of strangers and gets high on mushrooms, yet she never feels contrived. She’s an accumulation of growing up online, of the trickle down effects of #MeToo and the result of female liberation.
Lie’s Aksel is the perfect leading mean who juxtaposes Julie with his clarity of age. He aches for a simpler way of life he grew up with, and at 44 he longs for the tangible when “culture was passed along through objects.” He’s one of the most romantic leads to appear in cinema since Ethan Hawke sat down opposite Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise (1995).
We soon realise this isn’t a love story and Julie needs to find herself and build a relationship with her own past, present, and future before she can invite someone else into the chaos of her life. Julie visibly learns lessons from both romantic encounters, showcasing those years of love and a one night of lightning-in-a-bottle love can teach you different things about yourself. Unlike many movies with romantic notions, Trier’s just as concerned with the aftermath of love and mundane passions as he is meet-cutes.
A fragmented feel to the film may hamper the narrative to some, but it perfectly replicates the fractured notion of life. In the film’s most rapturous scene, the world freezes around Julie as she wanders across Oslo to meet a lover, as extras are told to pause without the use of VFX. It perfectly encapsulates the way time stops still when you’re in love. The moments of stillness are almost as effective as the whip-smart and incredibly relevant screenplay.
The third act is surprisingly saccharine, but never to the point where it ruins the good work done by the first two acts. The tone smoothly jumps between comedy to romance to a bittersweet melodrama with ease. The plot twists are delivered when you feel most comfortable with the where the film is going. Much like life, it all appears to be working out before the blow hits and you feel like you’re back at square one.
The Worst Person in the World will hit a nerve with those looking for an official line to cross between being a teenager and becoming an adult. There is no official mark of being a grownup, especially to those who are childless and don’t own their own home. Julie is flaky and untrustworthy (cue Fleabag comparisons) but smart, well-educated, and talented. She isn’t wasting her life away to sex, drugs, and partying like so many of her peers. She just happens to be stuck in a rut that’s caused her to drift instead of existing.
It’s not easy to sum up the mood of a generation, but The Worst Person in the World somehow manages it and doesn’t become a cliché, a parody, or cruel. It’s an extraordinary film that gives the aimless drifters a meaning, all cemented together by Reinsve’s grounded performance.
NORWAY • FRANCE • SWEDEN • DENMARK | 2021 | 128 MINUTES | 1.85:1 | COLOUR | NORWEGIAN
director: Joachim Trier.
writers: Eskil Vogt & Joachim Trier.
starring: Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie & Herbert Nordrum.