Synopsis: A young woman 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.
Stars: Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie, Herbert Nordrum, Hans Olav Brenner, Helene Bjørnebye, Vidar Sandem
Director: Joachim Trier
Running Length: 121 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Do you want to know what’s the best feeling in the world for someone that watches a ton of movies? When one comes along you know is excellent within the first few minutes and you realize that there are two hours left to enjoy it. That’s what I thought while still breathing in the opening beats of the Norwegian romantic comedy, The Worst Person in the World because there was a certain quality in the way director Joachim Trier introduces us to Renate Reinsve’s central character where you could feel you were in good hands. For months, all I had heard was how much people loved this spirited picture with the depressing-sounding title. It’s anything but a negative experience, by the way, and one you must make an effort to catch even if it miraculously goes unnoticed when Oscar nominations are announced this coming week.
Trier’s tale is told in twelve chapters, along with a prologue and an epilogue, and follows Julie’s journey over four years as she angles through the mysteries of life and love. It’s a brilliant way of reaching across multiple generations because anyone could find something relatable inside one or more of these minor episodes of life on which we get to drop in. Better than that, there’s little going on that’s extraordinary, which sets Julie’s life apart from ours in any way more significant than the fact she lives (for most of us reading this) in another country halfway around the world. Julie makes the same mistakes, achieves identical goals, tumbles over similar roadblocks, and walks the same tightrope of wanting to please everyone but growing to understand why it can be important to please yourself first.
Note that this is described as a romantic comedy, and you better believe the film has its fair share of downright hilarious moments, mainly derived from situational relationship conversations that are brutally honest or familiar enough that you giggle because if you didn’t, you might cry. It’s highly observant in how it nails down the way we talk to our significant others at the beginning of our relationship and how those conversations change over time and depending on the audience. Watching Julie interact with her boyfriend Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie, Personal Shopper) alone vs. in front of his parents or friends is quite telling. When she finds a different love in Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), that communication is different as Julie has adapted to her new companion.
Every fork in the road Julie takes isn’t going to agree with the audience coming to The Worst Person in the World. Still, Trier seems prepared for that and buoys ill-advised distractions with gentle comeuppances that reinforce the solid skin Julie develops or affirmations to confirm that following her gut was the right choice. Speaking of correct decisions, Reinsve joins a healthy list of actresses giving memorable performances this past year, and she grounds the movie even in some of its weaker sections that don’t quite work as well as others, like an extended trip on psychedelic mushrooms. I feel like I’ve seen enough of these tripped-out sequences recently, and adding another to the mix, especially in the middle of an otherwise strong movie that was flowing so well, was jarring. However, that sequence does herald a turning point for the movie, and the final few episodes that close out Trier’s film bring Julie’s story to a moving, but I think, triumphant end.
As we were nearing the end of 2021, I wasn’t exactly sure that the year had been as successful as it needed to be after the strangeness that was 2020. The films I liked the most in 2021 didn’t seem to catch fire like the more notable blockbuster titles, and it feels like the art-house film and even the mid-level budget movie were dead and in the ground. I’ve had my faith restored a little during the first weeks in 2022, though, and it’s due mainly to the 2021 releases like The Worst Person in the World that took a little time to come my way. Along with The Worst Person in the World, Parallel Mothers and Drive My Car have all scored highly for their skill in telling the right story at the right time. That they all happen to be foreign entries is an interesting wrinkle. Check out all three and start with this one.