If there was ever a genre created for Norwegian rom-coms, then The Worst Person In The World might be its Citizen Kane.
Yes, this is a great film. It’s also an exciting and unbridled one, offering a portrait of a devil-may-care 29-year-old across 12 chapters (bookended by prologue and epilogue). Julie, the story’s heroine, is played in a star-making turn by Renate Reinsve (a role which incidentally won her Best Actress at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival).
An over-achieving academic (sorta), Julie competes for brain-space with inner-monologues of uncertainty, and director Joachim Trier reveals those shades from the start. Bright and beautiful, she’s also a compulsive quitter. First, it’s med school, then it’s psychology. When she finally decides on photography as her life’s passion, a laundry list of flings and ex-boyfriends has come with it.
Then one day everything changes. At a party, she meets Askel (Anders Danielsen Lie), a smart 40-something comic book artist who’s found success with his illustrated creation “Bobcat” (an X-rated feline that’s achieved cult status). Sparks fly, and for the remainder of the film, chapter-after-chapter, they weave throughout each other’s lives in good times and tragic ones.
Wounding, personal, hilariously funny, and wildly inventive, The Worst Person In The World brilliantly breaks with tradition and presents a film that inspires one to think about what it’s like to live in Julie’s shoes.
For instance, consider the film’s soundtrack. Immersing the senses, it’s a cinematic menagerie combining musical deep cuts (e.g. Art Garfunkel) with diegetic noises of social gatherings or bodily functions. The effect is strong, often thrusting viewers into Julie’s head rush of adrenaline. Even better, director Trier (along with cinematographer Kasper Tuxen) deploys no less than two elaborate, jaw-dropping sequences throughout the film’s 121 minutes: A full-on hallucinogenic drug trip (blending animation and menstruation) and a euphoric day-dream where the world literally comes to a complete halt. Rarely has a slice-of-life felt this surreal.
Sure, The Worst Person In The World may be an unusual title, but it’s Julie’s story to tell. Warts and all.