Review: The Worst Person in the World is a Coming-of-Age Film for Millennials

Image Credit: Kasper Tuxen/Oslo Pictures

Joachim Trier’s new film The Worst Person in the World has a very authentic beauty to it, like watching real-life play out with all its messy emotions, mistakes, and frustrating characters. The Norwegian romantic dramedy is set in modern-day Oslo and feels like a reflection of the city itself: somehow exciting and subdued at the same time. The film follows four years in the life of Julie (Renate Reinsve), through her late twenties and early thirties, as she searches for fulfillment through her career and her relationships.

The film completes Trier’s informal Oslo trilogy, following Reprise and Oslo, 31. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2021 but was also screened at Sundance last month and was chosen as the Norwegian submission for Best International Film at the Oscars. It is now finally being released for general audiences.

Writers Trier and Eskil Vogt divided the film into 12 chapters, with a prologue and epilogue as bookends on either side. When we first meet Julie, she’s dropping out of medical school to study psychology, but that doesn’t last long either before the former gifted student decides to become a photographer. Eventually, while working at a bookstore, she will also try her hand at being a writer. Though intelligent and funny, she seems to be unable to find something to fulfill her, constantly yearning for something else.

When she meets Askel (Anders Danielsen Lie), a graphic novelist who is 15 years older than she is, Julie believes that he might be the answer. They fall in love and move in together, but while he is ready to settle down, she’s restless. She doesn’t feel that she fits in with Askel’s older friends after an uncomfortable get-together with them and is unsure if she wants to have children. While that’s not uncommon for someone at her young age, her older boyfriend would like to experience parenthood like his friends.

While crashing a wedding party, Julie is drawn to Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), a barista closer to her own age. The magnetic chemistry between the two actors helps convince the audience of their immediate connection. Eivind is also in a relationship, but they leave their partners to be together, believing that they have found something special.

Despite how different the two men are, Julie still finds issues in her new relationship and, after seeing him on a television interview about his work, finds herself thinking about her ex-boyfriend. For all the romance in the film, it isn’t strictly a love story – neither Askel nor Eivind can provide Julie with the purpose that she is seeking. The relationships that we see aren’t heavily romanticized, as they often are on film, but feel more like the ones that you might witness between friends.

The Worst Person in the World deals with a series of very serious topics: Julie’s career struggles, her estranged relationship with her neglectful father, and her complicated feelings towards being a mother, to name a few. Strangely though, Julie doesn’t seem to have any friends to give us a more full view of her life or to give her an opportunity to reflect with. At times, it can be difficult to understand Julie’s headspace, partially because she seemingly has no one to talk to about it, no female friends to show us the type of woman she herself admires. It’s a testament to Reinsve’s ability to tell us how Julie is feeling through her facial expressions that we have as much insight into the character as we do.

Trier reflects on life, love, age, and mortality through his characters who are as messy and flawed as any real people. For anyone in their late twenties and early thirties, this feeling of yearning for something to give your life purpose will likely feel familiar. All three main performances, but particularly Reinsve and Lie, demonstrate all their emotions with a naturalness that is very moving.

The film has a handful of very stylized sequences, beautifully crafted by cinematographer Kasper Tuxen and editor Oliver Bugge Coutté. One that stands out follows Julie through a daze of drugs after she, Eivind, and a few friends take the magic mushrooms that she discovers in her boyfriend’s apartment. The trip reveals Julie’s anxieties about her father, aging, and her body very creatively, if a bit disturbingly.

Sometimes, the film can feel as aimless as its heroine and rather unsatisfying, but it’s a reflection of the messiness of life. At times funny, at times depressing, it is a comforting reminder that most people don’t have their lives entirely figured out by the time they turn 30 years old. If Trier was trying to make a coming-of-age story for people in their late twenties and early thirties with The Worst Person in the World, then he absolutely succeeded.

Rating: 4/5

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