Written by Patrick Hao
Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World is not exactly about “The Worst Person in the World.” But being in your 20’s, apprehensive about the menu of choices between adolescence and adulthood, can make every choice seem like they have the magnitude of an earthquake. God forbid the wrong choice is made.
At the heart of Trier’s film are the way choices, whether correct or wrong, contribute to growth. It’s a well-worn subject for sure, but Trier’s film is able to fluidly weave through the film’s many segments to belie the greater point of growth of the human spirit. The film is told in 12 chapters framed around a prologue and epilogue. At the center of the film is Julie (Renate Reinsve) – a Katherine Heigl character from a late aughts rom-com if Katherine Heigl characters had interiority. Julie is a Norwegian woman in her 20’s in Oslo, shifting between careers. In the prologue, she begins as a medical student who transitions to psychology who then transitions to photography. Ultimately, she ends up working at a bookstore. This indecisiveness is not characterized as a fault on Julie’s part, rather as something naturally occurring. It helps that Reinsve infuses Julie with a sense of confident determination in these times of indecision. Her spirit of both openness and pensiveness to the rat race of existence breathes life to Julie.
The film mainly centers around Julie’s relationship with two men – although that is not to say she is defined by these relationships. Rather, these relationships are a good indicator of her state of mind. The first relationship of note is with Aksel (Trier stock company player Anders Danielson Lie), a 40-year-old underground cartoonist. Aksel and Julie’s relationship is buoyed by intense chemistry between the two leads that as a viewer you can’t help but root for the relationship to flourish. Lie, one of the best actors working in cinema today, belies Aksel with the world weariness of middle age, impressed by the youthful vibrancy of Julie and her ability to push back on his ideas. For Julie, while there is love for Aksel, he also represents time for her to coast. His success allows her to enjoy safe passage through her own crisis with time. That cover begins to crumble as both begin to have different ideas about whether to have children.
Julie seeks refuge in Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), who she met crashing a wedding party on a whim. Their relationship is one of mutual relatability. Both are static in their current state in life (Eivind is a barista) and are allowed to do so thanks to the security offered by their more successful partner. For Julie, Eivind represents an unclear path. Where Aksel is linear.
The film’s vignette structure is able to place emphasis on particular moments in Julie’s life that on its own can be seemingly unimportant. But together they paint a full picture of Julie as a person. This structure is not too dissimilar than the one used by Nora Ephron in When Harry Met Sally – which makes sense in Trier’s explicit labeling of his film as “a modern take on classic rom-com.” Here, Trier oscillates between the mundane and the fantastical in his vignettes. Little fleets of movie fancy feel like grand escapes for both the character and for the audience. The tandem of deftness in both the filmmaker’s skill and Reinsve’s performance might be the most exciting of the year.
The vignettes also allow Trier and co-screenwriter Eskil Vogt to add wry Nordic observations on millennials. But this isn’t a movie about the millennial mindset per se. Rather it is a clear distillation of the idiosyncrasies that comes with youth. Youths can be stubborn, cruel, funny, vivacious and most importantly confused. The film never belittles youthfulness the way many older people do now. Rather, The Worst Person in the World celebrates it with compassion of the human spirit.
That is why when the film veers towards melancholic pain of loss and regret, it hits as hard as it does. Trier did not simply create zany movie characters but characters who feel embedded by humanity. The film feels spiritual in that sense, not of God or religion. But, of life.
The Worst Person in the World Trailer
The Worst Person in the World will release theatrically on February 4th, 2022.