As Joachim Trier was making his final chapter in a trilogy of films that began with Reprise (2006) and continued with Oslo, August 31 (2011), a voice inside his head told him that he might have lost his edge, that he was selling out. Ultimately, he realized that at the age of 47 not everything had to be shrouded in darkness. He had seen people come out of crises intact and improved their lives; perhaps it would be more courageous to make a movie with a positive outlook. If The Worst Person in the World is Joachim Trier selling out, he should do it more often.
Struggling to find her passion
Medical student Julie (Renate Reinsve) suddenly realizes that this is not the path for her. Maybe psychology is… but then she discovers photography. As she struggles to find her passion in life, Julie meets Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), a graphic artist who’s 15 years older, at a party. They hit it off and eventually move in together. Some time later, Aksel makes it clear that he wants to have kids, but Julie is not ready for that. This turns into a conflict between them and Julie begins to long for an adventure.
She crashes a party where she meets Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), a guy her age who’s working in a coffee shop. They end up spending the whole night talking and flirting… and next morning, they go their separate ways. But that’s not the end of it.
Divided into 12 chapters
Making a romantic comedy that will stand the test of time is very difficult and the key to it lies in how you do it, not really the actual romance. Divided into 12 chapters, The Worst Person in the World follows a millennial, Julie, as she blunders her way through life like we all do. The title is a typical Norwegian saying, a self-deprecating way to acknowledge that you’re not very successful at what you’re doing right now. Neither Julie nor the men in her life is anywhere close to being ”the worst person in the world”, obviously, just refreshingly human.
The story doesn’t follow a completely straight line; some of the chapters choose a different viewpoint or go back in time, as in an amusing flashback where we learn how Eivind and his girlfriend Sunniva (Maria Grazia Di Meo) met and how she turned into a strict climate-change activist and yoga enthusiast. Trier and his co-writer Eskil Vogt portray middle-class anxieties and obsessions in a sharp, entertaining way, capturing another aspect of Oslo, the city they’ve been examining in three movies now; as in Reprise, the focus lies on people whose work is intellectual and creative. That seeps into the film itself, injecting life into several sequences, including a drug-fueled hallucination (memorably containing a scene where Julie throws a bloody tampon at her father) and a devastatingly dark, and honest, moment near the end where Aksel examines his life and wonders if all the time he spent obsessing over movies, books, comics and music was worth it. Let’s just say that scene should be both a nightmare and a blessing to anyone who recognizes similar traits in themselves.
There is much to ponder here, combined with so many charming and arresting scenes; there’s even time for an absurd, but realistic, #metoo moment where Aksel is confronted by an abrasive critic. But the most romantic part of the film is Julie and Eivind’s chance meeting at the party she crashes; beautifully filmed, it’s hilarious, alluring and sweet, hitting the perfect note.
Reinsve is the stand-out in a film that brilliantly reminds us that no matter if you decide to have kids or not, your first impulse must be to live your life and get to know yourself. That other huge decision can and must wait.
The Worst Person in the World 2021-Norway-France-Sweden-Denmark. 121 min. Color. Produced by Andrea Berentsen Ottmar, Thomas Robsahm. Directed by Joachim Trier. Screenplay: Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt. Cinematography: Kasper Tuxen. Cast: Renate Reinsve (Julie), Anders Danielsen Lie (Aksel), Herbert Nordrum (Eivind), Hans Olav Brenner.
Trivia: Original title: Verdens verste menneske.
Cannes: Best Actress (Reinsve).
Last word: “With this film, I wrote it for Renate. I knew her as an actor. She’d done a small part in ‘Oslo, August 31’. And I wrote it for her. I think she’s magnificent. And she hadn’t been given any leads in any films before. And it was embarrassing for the Norwegian film industry that she hasn’t been given a part that she deserved. So I wrote it for her and was very pleased with that. Anders came into it later and I realized, of course he has to be Aksel.” (Trier, Awards Radar)