Directed by: Joachim Trier
Premise: Julie (Renate Reinsve) moves through her life at a whim, from one career path to another and from one serious relationship to the next. She breaks up with a long-term boyfriend and confronts uncomfortable epiphanies about her life.
What Works: The coming-of-age story is a popular narrative formula. Those stories usually involve characters in adolescence or early adulthood as they encounter difficult truths about life and become their mature selves. The Worst Person in the World is an offshoot of that kind of storytelling, applying it to older characters. Julie goes through a series of career changes, dropping out of medical school to study psychology and later work as a photographer and a bookstore clerk. Her professional transitions are matched by changes in her love life. Julie ends her relationship with her long-term boyfriend to enter into a new romance. The title of Worst Person in the World is somewhat facetious but the film is ultimately about the way people are hurt, deliberately or inadvertently, by Julie’s choices. The picture is distinguished by its frankness and honesty and complexity. Julie and her boyfriends are presented as multifaceted characters. Renate Reinsve plays Julie and she throws herself into a complex role that requires her to be very unselfconscious. The film is especially frank about Julie’s sexuality. Mainstream films tend to either idealize or demonize female sexuality. The Worst Person in the World does neither. It’s part of who Julie is but her sexual impulses also exist within a larger context of personal quirks. Julie has a range of interests that lead her to different career paths but Julie is also controlled by her desires and impulses which lead to professional and romantic complications. The film also has impressive performances by Anders Danielsen Lie and Herbert Nordrum as Julie’s former and current boyfriends Aksel and Eivind. Like Julie, these men have complex lives and their decisions sometimes come with personal cost. Especially impressive is Anders Danielsen Lie as Aksel. He goes through a major life change and Danielsen Lie has some heartbreaking moments at the end of the picture.
What Doesn’t: The Worst Person in the World never quite lives up to its name. The title is meant to be tongue-in-cheek; there are plenty of fictional characters and real-life criminals who are much worse than anyone in this movie. But even accounting for the glibness of the title, the filmmakers of The Worst Person in the World never make Julie do anything that is really challenging to our sensibilities in the way of World’s Greatest Dad or Thank You For Smoking or episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Bottom Line: The Worst Person in the World is a smart and sophisticated character study. The picture never descends into anything too awful but the film offers a complex profile that is funny, heartbreaking, and insightful.
Episode: #893 (March 6, 2022)