Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World” is like a chameleon in the best way possible. Occasionally melancholic, occasionally funny, and consistently charming, this romantic comedy shakes things up while utilizing 12 chapters, including a prologue and epilogue, and by being an oft-times exhausted “coming of age” story. But “The Worst Person in the World” is more than just a “coming of age” film, it’s a film about self-discovery and growing up. Renate Reinsve owns the film, and the amount of hype the film received coming out of all of the film festivals in 2021 feels justified after viewing.
Julie (Renate Reinsve) is like any 30-year-old who has no safety net. At the beginning of “The Worst Person in the World,” she has a “not-quite-midlife crisis” that includes dying her hair from blonde to pink, changing her school programs from medicine to photography, and experiments with a number of guys. We also learn that she picked medicine as a major for “the accomplishment” (we all know those people). Julie also goes through the struggles of becoming a maturing adult as she passes by the age of still “figuring it out.” She worries about not being ready for kids or being as successful as her boyfriend for most of the film, Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), and his friends. Julie is simply that one friend in your group who has switched majors, or at least talked about, numerous times. Of course, you wish this for them, but they don’t make it easy for you when they decide to work at a Barnes and Noble for the rest of their life, or the local bookstore in the case of Julie. Renate plays the part with ease, mixing her charm and sensuality to the point that it makes it impossible not to fall in love with her on-screen.
Anders Danielsen Lie continues a strong year after his performance in “Bergman Island.” He retains the Tim Roth look in certain shots of “The Worst Person in the World,” and has proven to be versatile like Roth. In “The Worst Person in the World” he plays Aksel, Julie’s main lover in the film and a comic book artist. While Aksel is inherently less tragic than his role as Anders in “Oslo, August 31st,” Aksel will still have viewers in tears by the end. He gains success in this career throughout the film, but he learns how little that means by the end, the complete and polar opposite of Aksel’s conversation with Julie at the beginning of the film about wanting to break off their relationship before they get too attached to one another. Aksel gives a speech about accomplishments and physical items that will make you think twice about buying that next Blu-ray or hardcover book. It’s a powerful speech delivered by Anders Danielsen Lie that puts life into perspective, something this film oftentimes does.
The 12 vignettes, or chapters, of Julie’s life, bring both positives and negatives to the table. For the positive, having chapters is a unique way of telling a romantic-comedy story. Some chapters, like “Oral Sex in the Age of #MeToo” are a conversation about an article Julie is writing. Others, like “Cheating,” are more expensive and further the plot. There is even one that features Julie getting high, resulting in a psychedelic trip for the ages. It’s a nice mix of plot and excerpts from Julie’s story. It does, eventually, come together to make a cohesive film, but as expected, some sections are simply more memorable than others. But none of them last more than 15 minutes, so even the weakest chapters are moved on from as the next one begins.
Out of all of the chapters, “Cheating” has to be the best of them all. Though, this is not to say that “The Worst Person in the World” peaks in its second chapter. Julie crashes a party and meets Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), a coffee barista, and they spend the night together while deciphering for themselves what is cheating and what is fair game. FYI, taking sips out of each other’s beers and watching each other in the bathroom is fair game by the rules of Julie and Eivind.
The most beautiful thing about “The Worst Person in the World” is its portrayal of imperfection. This isn’t a story where Julie reunites with Aksel in the end or some other “true love.” Julie is not a perfect person, though she is far from “the worst.” She is simply lost and a bit of a screw-up. Heck, at one point, Julie points out that she feels like a supporting character in her own life. Isn’t it just refreshing for the lead in a romantic comedy that doesn’t think that they’re the main character? Julie’s relationship with Aksel is one of the most explored parts of the film, but it’s not peaches and cream. “The Worst Person in the World” is likely the most authentic look at a relationship, save for a “Cashback”-like sequence and a drug trip, since Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy.
“The Worst Person in the World” gives an honest portrayal of a very relatable life, and more importantly, love. The leads, Renate Reinsve and Anders Danielsen Lie, both put forth some of their best performances. Renate Reinsve deserves every role coming her way, and seeing her skyrocket push will be very exciting. Not everyone gets a happy ending like Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in the “Before” trilogy. While some people aren’t meant to be stars, Reinsve and Danielsen Lie both are. Watching “The Worst Person in the World” will also justify its already-announced Criterion Collection edition months before non-festival audiences will be able to feast their eyes on the film. “The Worst Person in the World” is a classic example of a film that is set up with almost impossibly high expectations to top, yet it somehow does. And it’ll be the antithesis of the worst thing you’ll have watched this year.
NEON will release “The Worst Person in the World” in theaters on February 4.