There’s a reason for the film’s title, but to think the main character is some one-dimensional woman who hurts, betrays, and eventually finds redemption in the full circle of things is one of the many engaging and organic surprises that are found in The Worst Person in the World. A lively and modest film about another woman in her late 20s just trying to “find herself” and do what she wants has been explored in many films, from the work of Whit Stillman, like Metropolitan, to Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, to other titles like Jean-Pierre Jeanet’s Amelie and Lena Dunham’s Girls, and here, Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier (Oslo, August 31st, Thelma) returns back to Oslo to bring another portrait of an indecisive, spontaneous woman attempting to find what she wants in career, love, relationships, and ultimately life. But there is something quite endearing and liberating about Trier’s 5th feature that allows it to still be fresh and inventive.
The film’s protagonist, Julie (Renata Reinsve), certainly echoes the title character in such films as Amelie and Frances Ha. All women are impulsive, and all films bring an empathetic center to the story where you can’t deny rooting for the women. Trier even asks, “Who is the worst character in the film?” The truth is that you end up caring for each character as you can identify both endearing and imperfect habits and traits that we all carry within us as individuals. In the end, everyone appears to be the worst person depending on the tension that arises. Julia indeed does some deplorable things in the film, but deplorable things also happen to her, yet you can’t help but root for her.
While Reisve has collaborated before with Trier in Oslo, August 31st in a supporting role, her lead performance in this is more energetic and the story is very much a character study that holds a lot of wisdom. Trier has been one of the most skillful filmmakers to emerge from the 21st century on the international scene, even directing an American-made film titled Louder Than Bombs that sadly received mixed reviews, but most of the films before it held more distressing subject matter such as drug addiction, friendship rivalry, and grief. Trier’s narrative here may not be quite as bleak as before, but there are still some raw and heartbreaking moments in the film that are rendered with compassion and grace.
In many aspects, The Worst Person in the World feels very much in the vein of many other films you would see at Sundance, SXSW, and other North American festivals. But Trier brings a great amount of complexity and an equal amount of warmth, including a very impressive visual style that makes it stand out from the rest. Visually, his film echoes more closely to Oslo, August 31st, and it completes the trilogy of his so-called “Norway” trilogy that consists of Reprise, Oslo, August 31st, and now The Worst Person in the World. There are many stylistic flourishes in the film as well that echo Miranda July, especially a beautiful scene where time freezes as July runs through the streets of Oslo, as everyone is frozen in time. Here, it also helps that Julia is a very endearing character. Despite her complications and flaws, there is a great spirit and wit to her character that allows the audience to identify with her uncertainty.
Structured with vignettes and separated with chapters that unfold in, “12 chapters; a prologue and an epilogue,” which helps with the narrative flow and seamless structure to the story. The film begins with a montage of who Julia is as the story explains what she experienced in her youth, and Chapter One we see Julia living with her boyfriend Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), a cartoonist and comic book artist who makes controversial work that resembles the work of Robert Crumb. We begin with the relationship feeling broken, as both have different ambitions, as their creative work begins to dictate all hopes the future has in store for them when it comes to potential marriage and family.
The film is structured with vignettes and separated into chapters that unfold into “12 chapters; a prologue and an epilogue,” which helps with the narrative flow and seamless structure of the story. The film begins with a montage of who Julia is as the story explains what she experienced in her youth, and in Chapter One, we see Julia living with her boyfriend, Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), a cartoonist and comic book artist who makes controversial work that resembles the work of Robert Crumb. We begin with the relationship feeling broken, as both have different ambitions and as their creative work begins to dictate all the hopes the future has in store for them when it comes to career, potential marriage, and family. Anskel wants family and kids. He’s also about 10 years older than Julie, who wants to be creatively successful like Askel. She has ambitions in photography and occasionally writes while working at a bookstore, but she’s still trying to find herself and still has a youthful spirit of rebellion where she enjoys attending parties, crashing weddings, and she ends up meeting a man closer to her age named Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), who also happens to be married to another woman.
This allows Trier to helm a memorable journey for his heroine, and the film’s structure or rather episodes give an exuberance to the insights of Julie’s life. Trier also brings a lot of inventiveness and joy to his structure and style. Visually, this film is his most satisfying since Oslo, August 31st, and Trier uses time as a motif in the film to capture Julia’s state of mind as time passes on. These visual motifs and experiments do capture her longings quite well, and the way time stops as she searches for what she really wants is one of the most memorable scenes of 2021. The score by Ola Fløttum is very earthly and dreamlike, one that captures her anxieties and uncertainties quite well. The cinematography by Kasper Tuxen is absolutely exquisite, where every frame is meticulous. That also brings a mix of realism and a woozy quality to the film.
Julie finds herself falling in love with Eivind, and out of love with Anskel, only for things to become full circle again once she begins to see Anskel’s flaws and unwillingness to better himself from his mundane job at a local coffee shop where he works as a barista. The relationship between Julia and Anskel held a lot of flaws, but regrets began to brew, and Julia found herself once again in torment from her own doubts and regrets. Along her journey, she has many great encounters with other personalities, including her own family, and there is another great scene where she sees Anskel defending his comics to a feminist critic. The third act is very heartbreaking and deeply moving. The performances and exchanges between Reinsve and Danielsen are very human and redemptive. It’s there that you realize that Trier has crafted a film that is joyful, melancholic, and highly involving all in one.