Review: The Worst Person in the World
Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s heady, heartfelt tale of a young woman’s journey through her 20s is a future classic, featuring a generational performance from Renate Reinsve
Describing a film as universal feels like a bit of a cop-out as well as potentially damning it with faint praise. But in the case of The Worst Person in the World and its status as a romcom, which often feels like the most fanciful cinematic genre, its realism and relatability is what makes it most endearing. Norwegian director Joachim Trier has crafted an effervescent, authentic story of self-discovery, and, eventually, self-acceptance which miscellaneously segways between oral sex in the #MeToo era, parental neglect, identity and the behemoth that is death and its inevitability. Yet, it addresses these subjects neither with flippancy nor a morose, heavy hand, but instead heart-warmingly revels in life’s unpredictability and how people occasionally just have to do things, even if it defies reason or rationality.
The film follows Julie (a showstopping performance from Renate Reinsve, rewarded with a Best Actress award at Cannes last year) from her mid-20s to early 30s as she navigates the pitfalls of professional and personal expectation. There’s a brilliant opening montage where she undergoes multiple career crises, shifting from medical student, aspiring psychologist and finally to photographer in a matter of on-screen minutes, accompanied by a subtle tongue-in-cheek narrative voice which crops up at various stages throughout the film. Without noticeably settling on one, she meets Aksel, a 40-something comic book artist notorious for his transgressively provocative Bobcat series. Despite some early tragic foreshadowing regarding the outcome of their coupling, which escapes significance on a first watch, they begin seeing each other.
Norwegian director Joachim Trier has crafted an effervescent, authentic story of self-discovery, and, eventually, self-acceptance
One of Aksel’s first lines to Julie is a pessimistic prediction that, because of the age gap between the two and how they are at differing stages of adulthood, they would begin to resent each other for not sharing the same desires. This appears to be a generic throwaway excuse that might encourage Julie to make a hastier exit post-one-night-stand, but its poignancy is only truly felt once we witness the trials and tribulations of their relationship. The two have an early confrontation about the possibility of children. Considering he’s on the wrong side of 40, Aksel is understandably overeager in trying to examine why Julie is not yet ready to even consider this next step, but the scene also somewhat resembles an ambush. Because he has professional security and the experience of an extra decade, Aksel has the luxury of self-assurance, which allows him to look towards more external prospects. By contrast, Julie hasn’t fulfilled her strong academic potential and is languishing in a state of pre 30s self-doubt, exacerbated both by Aksel’s pressure and the increasingly detached relationship she has with her father. Temporality is the crux of her internal paranoia; she rejects to Aksel that everything is “on your terms”, which subsequently reflects how she feels her life is slipping away beyond her control.
Despite these difficulties, The Worst Person in the World maintains an incredibly uplifting sensibility, represented by certain standalone sequences. There is a magnificent “cheating” section where Julie encounters a stranger at a wedding party and pushes the boundaries of physical intimacy to the limit; engaging in acts of sweat-smelling and urinating voyeurism which ironically the large majority of people wouldn’t consider in actual relationships. It’s a brilliant scene that subverts basic romcom conventions of deceit whilst playfully addressing female desire. However, the film’s knockout blow is a jaw-dropping timelapse sequence depicting Julie running through the streets of Oslo while everything is frozen around her. At some point in their lives, everyone has wanted time to stand still so they could forget the measly obstacle of consequences and just go after their most deep-seated desires – especially romantic ones. Again, it has a layered effect upon repeated viewings; the first principally elicits awe-inspired shock and wonder, while the second time bitingly captures the mad rush of emotional infatuation.
The Worst Person in the World is available to stream now on MUBI