I didn’t think it was possible to find the time to watch The Worst Person in the World, which I was delighted to have available for me to watch at home, just as I thought my watchlist was finished before I revealed my best list. Like another non-English language film Neon picked up for distribution, Titane, it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, where star Renate Reinsve won Best Actress and premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Initially, this was one of those foreign-language films that grabbed my attention through word of mouth and piqued my interest after hearing the reactions over the last month or so. However, nobody told me how grounded and virtually relevant a coming-of-age narrative of this kind exists since I didn’t know what to anticipate after finally seeing the trailer recently.
What’s the Story: The chronicles of four years in the life of Julie, a young woman who navigates the troubled waters of her love life and struggles to find her career path, leading her to take a realistic look at who she really is.
The film follows a woman’s life as she faces the obstacles of maturity through 12 discrete chapters, including a prologue and an epilogue. This is the fifth major film by renowned Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier, and it’s the third and final installment in his “Oslo Trilogy,” consisting of Reprise in 2006 and Oslo, August 31st in 2011. Being unfamiliar with his work, this being my first blood from his filmography, this could’ve easily been your pretty traditional story of a protagonist learning how to grow up and understand who she is. Perhaps, but in the hands of someone like Trier, who can bring it all to life and connect on all levels, it’s possible. I didn’t realize how easygoing and subverted The Worst Person in the World was going to be until it ended.
But what really made the film stand out significantly comes from the performance of lead Renate Reisnve, another truly incredible breakout star of 2021. Being the title character, I would’ve assumed she is just a terrible person to be around. I wouldn’t even go there because it’s a brilliant woman who easily sympathizes with this woman in her late 20s to early 30s who has an indecisive mind, battling what she wants out of life. Nobody knew who Reisnve was, but thanks to her darkly funny and heartbreaking portrayal of the main character, it’s an unforgettable performance that makes me hope we see her continue as a leading actor. When we first see her, her focus on what major she chooses changes, from studying medicine and psychology to wanting to be a part in photography. Anybody can see themselves in Reisnve’s perspective of wrestling with what life will be delivering to them when coming across a certain age. I’m currently going through the same thing in seeing myself in a promising career or hoping to find someone to, hopefully, settle down within the next few years or so.
Her relationship starts with her dating Askel (Anders Danielsen), a 40-year-old who created a successful comic book series called Bobcat. The age difference isn’t a problem for either of them until the idea of having children her age comes up. After wandering through the city following a publishing event for Aksel, she interacts with the charming barista Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), who she meets while crashing a wedding party. They instantly get along without resorting to cheating. And it’s not like we’re supposed to side with one relationship because it’s understandable to see their flaws despite caring about what they are, but let’s us know Julie has to go through life living with the choices and consequences she takes on. As for Anders Danielsen Lie and Herbert Nordrum as Askel and Eivind, respectively, they were equally great when acting alongside Reinsve. The chemistry she creates with both of them is pretty fantastic, especially between Reinsve and Danielsen Lie.
I loved how Trier and his frequent writing partner Eskil Vogt’s screenplay doesn’t dare to be predictable in what might be called the opposite of a romantic comedy though it’s more of a drama. This reasonable amount of energy right from the opening montage hits unexpectedly. And while it didn’t make me laugh-out-loud laughing, there are some generally funny moments. Two sequences will be remembered the most when people see this. One involves a romantic moment where time stops, as we see Julie running through the streets of Oslo and shows she and Eivind are the only two people moving where they’re the only two people in the world. The other memorable scene is how most experienced when tripping on hard mushrooms. My only nitpick from watching this is that it drags a little around the last two chapters, although it has one line of dialogue that struck a chord with me in how we’ll remember those we’ve loved. I haven’t seen Drive My Car yet, and since Titane didn’t make it on the shortlist for dumb reasons, nothing would make me happy if we saw this win Best International Feature Film come Oscar season as Norway’s entry. And as I watched this, all I could think about is this shouldn’t even be dared be remade for an American audience. Trust me, they will look at some point.
In the end, The Worst Person in the World is the dark romcom I wasn’t expecting. Beautifully told with an authentic touch to feel ground in reality, Trier’s subverts your expectations with a film so vibrant and poignant. Renate Reinsve should be in contention for a Best Actress nomination. Once it finally gets its limited release sometime next month, it’s worth seeking out.