Julie, heroine of The Worst Person In The Worldtwitter/isaacfeldberg

Non-committal, uncertain, and messy. These are the three words that describe the fickle and fundamentally imperfect life of 30-something Julie, heroine of Joachim Trier’s newest film, The Worst Person in the World (2021). Verdens Verste Menneske (the film’s original Norwegian title) is the last in a triptych informally titled ‘The Oslo Trilogy.’ The Nordic romcom, co-written by Trier and longstanding creative partner Erskin Vogt, is a surprisingly tender finish for the two who brought the disturbing Thelma (2017) and the psychologically charged Oslo, August 31st (2011) to our screens several years prior. While the films are united in their frank depictions of everyday life, The Worst Person in the World brings with it a profound softness that is absent from the trilogy’s first two films. Emotionally intelligent, and remarkably empathetic, Trier’s latest offering is a heartfelt acknowledgement of all life’s trials and tribulations.

Divided unequally into twelve chapters, a prologue and an epilogue, the structure of the film sits in contrast to the free-spirit of Julie, played by Renate Reinsve whose energizing performance won her Best Actress at Cannes earlier this year. Comparable to Greta Gerwig’s interpretation of the eponymous Frances Ha (2012), Reinsve espouses Julie’s ambition to succeed in life, while simultaneously embracing the protagonist’s indecision and ultimate restlessness. We see this in the beginning of the film, when Julie forgoes a career in medicine to work as a psychologist, then eventually abandoning that to become a photographer, after an abstracted epiphany while scrolling through her camera roll one day. Julie has plenty of aspirations, but lacks the willpower to see any of them through to the bitter end. Finally, she settles for a mediocre job working as an assistant in a bookstore. Reinsve approaches Julie’s story with a thoughtfulness that allows her to capture the character’s naïve optimism and her vulnerability all at once. Hinting at Julie’s self-perception, the film’s title epitomizes Julie’s millennial malaise. She is far from being the worst person in the world, but she lacks the qualities she believes are essential to being a good person: certainty and conviction.

"The two love stories are punctuated with life-altering events"twitter/thefilmstage

While bouncing between occupations and various social settings, Julie meets Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), an underground comic-strip artist. The two fall in love, despite initial – yet short-lived – concerns of their age difference. Even as the relationship becomes more serious however, Julie’s uncertainty remains, dismissing Aksel’s wish to start a family with a simple, “maybe, one day.” Feeling trapped, she finds an escape in the arms of Eivind (Herbert Nordstrum), a warm-hearted barista. Falling for each other just moments after meeting at a wedding reception that Julie gatecrashes, they spend an intensely intimate night together. Vowing to not cheat on their partners, they part ways the following morning without exchanging details. It isn’t until several months later that the pair decide to rekindle their love, after Eivind stumbles across Julie in the bookstore while out shopping with his girlfriend. After a passionate day spent with Eivind, Julie leaves Aksel. Eivind’s partner moves out and he and Julie commence their life together.

“This romantic comedy is a ballad in the name of personhood – an ode to falling in love with life”

For all the film’s excitement and charm – two elements that are part and parcel of a romantic comedy – Trier serves up unfeigned moments of realism in equal measure. The two love stories are punctuated with life-altering events. The plotline is coloured with tragedies that shatter Julie’s trajectory further still. Acrimonious twists and turns, loss and suffering work against what we typically expect of the romcom. Soon, the love triangle once central to the story becomes drowned out as Julie attempts to navigate her grief-stricken world. Now a mere subplot in her life, all hopes for a romantic happily-ever-after are fractured.


READ MORE

Mountain View

Supernova reminds us how truly extraordinary love can be'

The film’s episodic format harnesses the unsteady pace of Julie’s life. Fragmented, splintered and irregular, leaping forward and back in time, some chapters last as long as thirty minutes, while others barely begin before they end. Time passes for the spectator as it does for her: sometimes frustratingly slow, sometimes painfully quick. Trier buckles Julie and his audience in on an emotional rollercoaster that does not cease until the credits roll. From the joyous to the anxious, the sensual to the passionless, the restless to the still, viewers are thrown around the theme park of life – in all of its fear and exhilaration.

Painting a sincere portrait of life’s difficulties, Trier captures life’s chaos and confusion. The smorgasbord of visual effects deployed throughout the film work to celebrate life’s dynamism at the same time. Interweaving romantic comedy with the existential journey of a woman in the throes of her thirties, Trier creates a movie that is undeniably real. However, the film’s final sequence threatens to strip the director’s true-to-life canvas. Revisiting the clichés one would think to find in the films of Nora Ephron or Richard Curtis, a substandard end is produced for a work with groundbreaking potential. It is a shame that Trier finishes his perceptive coming-of-age film, with the type of improbable coincidence that can only be found in Hollywood. Nevertheless, the crux of The Worst Person in the World could not be further from the love-struck couples we have seen riding into the sunset time and time again. This romantic comedy is a ballad in the name of personhood – an ode to falling in love with life. It is not about arriving at life’s bitter end, but about finding the conviction to get there.