The Worst Person in the World – Review

The Worst Person in the WorldThe coming of age film is a Hollywood staple. The mid-life crisis film equally so. But there aren’t too many films which (successfully) explore that in-between period. Your late twenties and early thirties are a time full of decisions to be made – some of them life-changing – and social or familial pressures. Do you take that job? Do you find that special person? Do you have a baby? What happens if you don’t know the answer to any of these questions? How much time do you have to make up your mind?

These are some of the issues and themes raised in Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, which is the final instalment in the director’s Oslo trilogy. It questions why – at a time in our lives so full of questions and decisions – are we not given any real time to think? The urgent pace at which life seems to move doesn’t reflect the life-changing nature of the decisions that need to be made; the paths that need to be chosen.

The film centres around Julie (Renate Reinsve) who, within the space of the first twenty minutes, has changed her university course three times. She’s unsure what she wants to do with her life. She lurches between relationships before deciding to move in with graphic novelist, Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie) in his trendy central Oslo apartment. She has a strained relationship with her dad and his new family and is convinced that she doesn’t want children. But is this all life has to offer her? What other options are out there? Is she “settling” in order to conform to norms and expectations?

Trier splits the film into twelve chapters, with a prologue and epilogue, as we journey along with the seemingly rudderless Julie. There are plenty of romantic drama tropes – the quirky girl who dances with her eyes shut at a party; burning looks and instant attraction from across a room – but there is also an abundance of refreshing honesty. Julie confesses her desires and fears; she ponders sexual relationships “in the age of #MeToo”; she sees married couples with children and is immediately turned off. Renate Reinsve offers up an evocative, layered performance. She really captures the confusion and pressures of this particular time in life through her humour, her barbed comments and her tearful whispers. As female protagonists go, she is wonderfully well-rounded and relatable.

Anders Danielsen Lie as Aksel and Herbert Nordrum as Eivind are equally interesting in their normality. They are not chiselled Hollywood dreamboats ready to sweep Julie off her feet. Aksel is in his forties and ready to settle down and have a family; Eivind is as content to drift as Julie is. Aksel seems vulnerable, easily bruised; this is encapsulated perfectly by the slow camera drag down his hallway in which he is left half-naked and alone. Eivind frustrates Julie because he reflects her own indecision back at her; something she cannot bear.

The provocative title surely refers to how Julie feels about herself when she chooses to dump Askel for a stranger she met at a house party; when she cannot seem to forge a meaningful relationship with her father; when she cannot even decide what she wants to do as a job. It feels authentically hyperbolic – how many of us have baulked at the irreversibility of a major life decision and felt the same way?

The Worst Person in the World The film’s almost gentle pace contrasts the freneticism of how this time period in life can feel. So much of it is open-ended, much like the decisions we make. Trier’s script feels entirely natural. It has this raw, improvised feel about it which makes it almost intrusive to eavesdrop on personal conversations. In the same way that Julie and Aksel flinch when they hear their married friends get into a blazing row, the credibility of the dialogue and the intimacy of the camerawork can make you feel part viewer, part voyeur. Ola Fløttum’s soundtrack veers gently between classical, smooth jazz and pulsing techno. It’s every bit as all over the place as Julie is.

This is – despite its gentleness – a very emotional watch. For anyone who finds themselves at any kind of crossroads, a very raw and authentic experience is laid bare, here. There are no histrionics and very few cliches. Instead, it’s the mundanity of life – contrasted with the gravity of decision making – that makes this film so powerful.

Part bruising romantic drama, with elements of comedy and hallucinatory surrealism, The Worst Person in the World offers a thoroughly relatable protagonist, gently evolving with her as she ponders the long-term impact of transitory life choices.

The Worst Person in the World is now streaming on MUBI.

Mary Munoz
Follow Me
Latest posts by Mary Munoz (see all)

One thought on “The Worst Person in the World – Review

  1. Pingback: Ramona - Review

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.