The Worst Person In The World Review: A Wistful Anti-Romantic Comedy

What do we owe to each other? Maybe we don't owe anything to anyone other than ourselves. The latter seems like a harsh conclusion to come to, but it's an understandable sentiment coming from "The Worst Person in the World."

Joachim Trier's dark romantic-comedy is a bit hyperbolic with its title — its protagonist Julie (Renate Reinsve) is frequently selfish and inconsiderate, but by no means the worst — but is no less strong in its emotions, which whirl between disillusioned, dissatisfied, melancholic, and ecstatic. A snapshot of millennial ennui and a rare look into what it's like to go through life as a really, really ridiculously good-looking person, "The Worst Person in the World" is both an achingly relatable and frequently impersonal love story. Told in 14 parts that vary in length and tone, "The Worst Person in the World" is partly designed to alienate; it's an extremely specific story of a woman whose charmed existence is only derailed by her own aimlessness. But in its whimsical antics and darkly comic tone, there is hidden a devastating loneliness.

Life in Medias (Un)Res(t)

"The Worst Person in the World," the capper to Trier's loose "Oslo Trilogy," is the epitome of the anti-romantic comedy. A life told in chapters where there is no "endgame," just bitter regrets and bittersweet memories. And yet, despite its darkness, there isn't a cynical bone in the film's body — it has an exceptionally fond view of all the messiness that can make up a person's life.

And there is a lot of mess in Julie's life. Initially a medical student in Oslo, Julie has an epiphany of sorts and decides to major in psychology. Then she has another epiphany and decides to become a photographer. Then, while out meeting other artsy folks, she encounters Aksel Willman (a quietly brilliant Anders Danielsen Lie), a successful comics artist 15 years older than her. After a bit of hesitation over whether to start a relationship together, they fall headfirst in love and move in together.

This entire sequence of events (which is only the extent of the prologue) is given a chipper narration by an unseen woman, whose omniscient presence and monotonous reading recalls the self-indulgent stylings of a French New Wave film. But if the entire movie were to continue this way, it would be unbearable, and "The Worst Person in the World" wisely switches things up with each chapter — sometimes recalling a dreamy neorealist romance, sometimes tumbling down a surreal comedy rabbit hole, sometimes quipping like a screwball rom-com, and sometimes keeping its distance like many a Norwegian drama. Its elasticity makes its rather ordinary story something extraordinary, though it wouldn't work as well if it weren't for its magical breakout star, Renate Reinsve.

The Magic Hour

Reinsve is stunning, that much is obvious. She's objectively beautiful, but she also has that kind of twinkle in her eye, an impish attitude that simultaneously knows everything and nothing. Julie's dreams change every minute, and by the time she appears to be settled — living with Aksel and comfortable in their routines — she becomes restless. What about her photography? Her psychology major? Oh, she's tried a little writing. But has she thought about having kids? The barrage of questions and the invisible pressure starts to mount until Julie reaches a breaking point. But that breaking point doesn't come in a big explosion as much as it does a gentle pop. Julie, dragged along by the tides of a life and expectations that weren't hers, becomes increasingly withdrawn until she's basically listless, no longer the vibrant, erratic young woman we were introduced to. That is, until she wanders away from Aksel's comic book signing one night, and crashes a wedding party, where she meets Elvind (Herbert Nordrum).

In one of the film's most euphoric sequences, Julie and Elvind spend the night dancing around each other, both literally and figuratively — both in serious relationships and neither willing to cheat. But they want to, the want vibrating off their bodies as they flash crooked smiles to each other and decide that they'll do everything but "cross the line." They hover their mouths inches away, sniff each other's armpits, piss in front of each other, whisper dirty secrets in the other's ear. But they never kiss. Julie leaves the morning after, the world aglow in a hazy sunrise — magic hour, feeling ever so magical — temporarily sated but still dissatisfied.

It's no wonder that this chapter, which so perfectly captures that kind of ineffable will-they-won't-they tension in a winkingly self-aware way, is all over the marketing for "The Worst Person in the World." It embodies the movie's disarmingly warm, forever frustrated soul, denying you the catharsis of a happy ending. Because as mercurial as Julie is with her own passions and jobs, so is she towards love.

A Memory for You

Julie's life is a life in fragments; we see her at some of her highest points and lowest points, but they're snapshots at best of a woman in flux. Not even Julie seems to know who she is, so why should we? That's part of the beguiling appeal of "The Worst Person in the World" but also its greatest shortcoming — it holds us at arm's distance even while dazzling us with surreal sequences (shout-outs must be made, in particular, to the Lynchian shrooms scene and the gushingly romantic time-freeze date). But for all of Trier's stylistic flairs, "The Worst Person in the World" never gets buried by its more out-there choices, they only highlight the messy, unpredictable state of mind of our protagonist.

It's perhaps this dichotomy that prevented me from falling as head-over-heels in love with Julie as all the other characters who meet her do. But the character that unexpectedly sent me tumbling, and whose devastating revelations deepened the aimless melancholy of "The Worst Person in the World," was Aksel, the much-older boyfriend whose life is sent spinning after Julie announces that she has met someone else.

Anders Danielsen Lie gives a shattering performance as a person whose plans for life are suddenly upended, who was so important once to Julie and is now someone less so. "I don't want to be a memory for you," he tells Julie after dropping a heartbreaking piece of news on her. But as we soon cut to the next chapter of Julie's life, he is just a memory, but one that lingers and never stings any less. To quote another unconventional romance movie, "Because each person have ... their own, specific qualities. You can never replace anyone. What is lost is lost."

The losses, the mistakes, the ecstatic highs, and the muted lows all make up the texture of Julie, our "Worst Person in the World" and just another ordinary woman trying to make sense of who she is. We never get a full picture, but the one we see is a beautiful, if fractured, one.

/Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10