The Worst Person in the World

Julie (Renate Reinsve, the 2021 Cannes Best Actress winner) is so unsure of what she wants in life she's swung from pre-med to photography.  She is incredibly flattered to catch the attention of famous comic book artist Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie, "Oslo, August 31st"), an older man who supports her endeavors as they forge a relationship, but his desire for children and hers for freedom undoes them, helped along by her meeting Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), a barista her own age.  An unplanned pregnancy and Aksel’s shocking health diagnosis will set Julie to wondering if she is "The Worst Person in the World."

Laura's Review: A

Cowriter (with Eskil Vogt)/director Joachim Trier ("Oslo, August 31st") completes his Oslo Trilogy with a film that is at once a romantic comedy and a profound tale of finding oneself.  Told in 12 chapters with a prologue and epilogue, Trier anchors Julie’s experience with three cycles of men, blood and sunrises.  Reinsve has deservedly been getting all kind of plaudits for her breakthrough performance and Nordrum, who resembles Christopher Guest’s Nigel Tufnel, tackles a difficult position, that of the ‘other man,’ and charms us, but to my mind, the film’s best performance comes from Trier’s Trilogy mainstay, Anders Danielsen Lie, who is sexy, complex and heartbreaking, his Aksel the lynchpin of Julie’s self discovery.

The film’s beginnings are borderline Woody Allenesque (Billie Holiday’s ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ on the soundtrack helps) as a narrator runs through Julie’s career starts and stops as her mom (Marianne Krogh), who is financing everything, tries to remain supportive.  If medical school satisfied her desire to justify her school grades and challenge herself, photography opens a whole new world of bohemian artists where her rather scary looking male model is quickly dumped at a club in favor of Aksel.  Right after sleeping together, Aksel suggests they part ways, giving a freakishly accurate prediction of what will eventually happen if they don’t.  Julie tells us it is at this point that she fell in love with him and Aksel’s heart overrules his head.

But soon those clubs full of bohemian artists have given way to weekends with Aksel’s fortysomething friends and their children and receptions for his graphic novels where Julie finds herself continually asked what ‘she does’ (a part time job at a bookstore) and when she plans on having kids.  Feeling like she’s losing her identity, Julie leaves Aksel to his fans, telling him she’ll walk home.  But instead, she spontaneously crashes a wedding, where she’ll catch Eivind’s attention goofing on a mom, masquerading as a doctor who believes cuddling children produces drug addicts.  These two drift together and talk until dawn, pushing the limits of ‘not cheating.’

That’s the first of three sunrises, each of which significantly do not feature Askel, the last of which is incredibly moving.  Julie finds a bit of personal notoriety with ‘Oral Sex in the Age of #MeToo,’ a sexually frank article which goes viral, but her dad’s (Vidar Sandem) callous disregard for her thirtieth birthday and a chance meeting with Eivind stir up her feelings of dissatisfaction and she leaves Aksel for all the reasons he’d originally predicted she would.

Trier’s created such a rich tapestry of this woman’s life that multiple viewings are rewarded.  We get a historical montage of woman’s changing role in society from the present back to the 18th century on Julie’s thirtieth birthday via a photo of her grandmother. In one chapter, Julie runs through the streets of Oslo, everyone around her frozen in place, to spend a day with Eivind before returning to Aksel just where she left him.  Another chapter rewinds to flesh out Eivind’s relationship with Sunniva (Maria Grazia Di Meo), a clever way to illustrate how both he and Julie have been shaped by their exes (Julie will eventually berate Eivind…for not being Aksel).  Cinematographer Kasper Tuxen and the film’s sound crew recreate a magic mushroom trip, one in which Julie removes a tampon to use as warpaint before throwing it at her father.  Lie slays two scenes in the film’s last third, one in which he defends his ‘Fritz the Cat’-like ‘Bobcat’ to a feminist on a radio show, the second reminiscing about the lost physical nature of art as he rages against the light.

Trier and his actress make all the struggles, pain and heartache we’ve witnessed all coalesce with her having found her place in the world.  Now a set photographer, Julie shoots an actress who appears unhappy, an actress with an ironic connection to Julie’s past, and sees herself as she used to be.  “The Worst Person in the World” is a rich and rewarding gift to movie lovers.

Robin's Review: B+

Neon opens “The Worst Person in the World” in select theaters on 2/4/22, expanding on 2/11/22.