Review: The Worst Person in the World

Exploring universal themes and featuring some of the best performances in recent memory, Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World is a perfect slice of life of when you turn 30. This film hit me in such a specific way, it blinded me to any flaws. The best film and performance of 2021.

The film is broken up into a prologue, twelve individual chapters, and an epilogue. Renate Reinsve stars as Julie, an aimless student living in Oslo, Norway. Despite success in school, she waivers between medical school, psychology, and photography. Equally unsettled in her personal life, she meets Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie) while attending a party with her boyfriend. Julie and Aksel begin a relationship and move in together.

Despite stability and relative happiness, Julie begins to wander professionally and personally. As she dabbles in writing and crashes a party where she meets Eivind (Herbert Nordrum). Despite obvious chemistry and spending a non-sexual night with each other, the two decide not to cheat on their significant others and part without further planned contact. Julie continues her life, but circumstances in and out of her control send her life into further disruption.

Julie’s life is defined by indecisiveness. It’s not a crippling affliction, but more of a feature of her life. She can never get out of her own way. The circumstances of Julie’s life have led her to a life of contentment, but there is something wired in her brain that is not inclined to settle. Whether it’s wavering professionally or personally, Julie is not portrayed as this monster who deceives and wavers at every opportunity, but someone who has no idea what to do with her life. This film does not view Julie’s lack of focus as a negative or view Julie as a particularly negative person.

Julie doesn’t overly dwell on turning 30, but she also has her family as an example of what 30 looked like. All the female members of her family, they were married with multiple children by 30. The idea of motherhood is not something Julie is comfortable with or has even attempted to reconcile for herself. At the same time, Julie’s lack of children does not mean she views herself as a failure. She does not define her happiness or success by a job or a title, but rather how she can feel like her true self. This idea feels refreshingly transgressive for a modern film about a woman written and directed by a man.

While the idea of stopping/starting in life when you turn 30 isn’t new, the film hits fascinating ideas of the future. Without spoiling anything, a character is faced with the prospect of not having a future, which features some of the film’s most heartbreaking moments. While most people look forward to the potential of what they can achieve, this character has only nostalgia to dwell on when they realize they have no future. Not only does it paint a heartbreaking picture of some realities, but it also puts further perspective on the futility of the younger people’s indecision and inability to cope with the future.

Without indulging in too much hyperbole, Reinsve gives one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. Her performance is unencumbered by vanity or likeability but still manages to be fairly glamourous and likable. It would have been easy to embody Julie with a sad-sack sense of regret and stagnation, but Reinsve is so alive and moves like a shark. She is loose and carefree, but with none of the earthy hangups that come along with it. She knows she doesn’t have a clear plan, but she isn’t bogged down with the unassured that she can’t be optimistic about it. It’s the standout performance of the year.

Lie and Nordrum both prove her equal while showing off wildly different characters. Nordrum is a bit of a lunk, but he is never anything other than sweet and a perfect compliment to Reinsve. They have great sexual chemistry as well as a playful report. Lie plays the more intellectual of the two men, but it is still tinged with a sense of childishness. Lie does have a standout monologue near the film’s end which gives the film its mission statement. Lie gives Aksel an aura of despair, without bemoaning his lot in life. He is oddly hopeful for the world for someone in his situation.

Trier knows what he has with his actors, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t give the film an unexpected visual flair. A standout scene freezes the action in the world with exception of Julie and Eivind. The metaphor of the “whole world standing still” is literally personified and results in an unforgettable scene. Even small moments like Aksel air drumming to a rock song is shot with energy and vigor, giving what could be a nothing scene into something that teems with life and passion.

While occasionally experimental, The Worst Person in the World presents an unforgettable picture of early adulthood and all the vivid experiences that come with it. One of the rare films that I felt completely connected to for the entirety of its runtime. It’s the best film of the year.

Score: 5.0/5.0

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