“Yes, I do love you,” says Julie (Renate Reinsve) in The Worst Person in the World. “But also I don’t.”
The Worst Person in the World is not a love story. Unless, of course, one counts the story of falling in love for Julie. Cinephiles, especially millennial movie nuts, will fall hard for Julie and this film. Worst Person unfolds across 12 chapters and a prologue. Each segment reveals something new about Julie—to us, to herself—and one witnesses the young woman grow into her skin. Her journey, though, is one of fits and starts. It’s hugely relatable for anyone around Julie’s age as one watches her figure out who she is while navigating career prospects and potential life partners.
Director Joachim Trier (Thelma) delivers a truly millennial anti-rom-com about the frustrations of growing older and the rewards of breaking free from conventional paths with Julie’s tale. Anchored by an effervescent Renate Reinsve, this contemporary coming-of-age story is something to savour. Nominated for two Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature (Norway) after winning Best Actress for Reinsve at Cannes, this intoxicating character study delivers on the advance buzz that propels it into theatres. It’s one of those “run, don’t walk” movies, especially because its centerpiece is a jaunt that makes one swoon.
13 Going on 30
Julie is turning 30, but that birthday arrives a few chapters in. She finishes her 20s by flirting with different career paths—medicine, then psychology, then photography. She dabbles in love and eventually lands with Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie). He’s 40 and his friends look enviably at Julie’s youth while their kids run around screaming. Julie keeps Aksel young, while he keeps her grounded. They click, almost too perfectly, and have a passionate and intimate relationship.
However, Aksel’s age also suffocates Julie. As her indecisive career path demonstrates, she’s not the best with commitment. One of the film’s chapters, inevitably, is called “Cheating.” Julie betrays Aksel in the most intimate way. She meets a man her age, Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), while randomly crashing a party. They drink and flirt. They even watch each other pee. As they part ways after walking through Oslo until dawn, Eivind reminds Julie that no cheating occurred and that they did nothing wrong. The infidelity, however, is palpable as Eivind occupies a space in Julie’s mind.
Living in the Moment
As Julie realizes that she and Aksel aren’t destined to be together, Trier imagines the revitalising power of breaking free. Julie flips a light switch as Aksel reaches for the coffee pot just as she’s wondering if their own brew has grown stale. Aksel freezes mid-pour, and everyone around Julie freezes too.
In the film’s coup de coeur, Julie races through the streets of Oslo with her heart beating and dashes all the way to the coffee shop where Eivind works. He, too, moves in sync while the rest of the world is on pause. The Worst Person in the World basks in the warming sensation of feeling as if the world stops when you’re with the one you love. Julie and Eivind pick up where they left off and roam the streets of Oslo to the pulse of the city as if there’s nobody else but them. As Julie races home to dump Aksel, Reinsve beams with the beauty of young love.
This sequence is one of those moments that will live in cinephiles’ hearts forever. Trier evokes the wonder of having the chance to pause and take stock of one’s future before making life-altering choices. To be young and in love, and to break free without regrets, is luxury to savour. It’s also heartbreakingly cruel. Trier embraces the awkward messiness of love as Julie’s choice to end the relationship blindsides Aksel. At 40, investing time in a relationship is a different matter. He loves Julie and, as their hot and messy break-up sex shows, she loves him too.
The Honest Messiness of Life
The actors navigate the emotional complexity of these characters remarkably. There isn’t a false note to The Worst Person in the World thanks to the authenticity with which Trier and the actors bring to life. Julie is a complicated character, yet Reinsve wears her heart on her sleeve. Confident in her emotions, she pushes us to embrace life and live in the moment. It’s a star-making performance. One can’t help but be struck by Julie’s imperfections and her down to earth hunger for life, Nordrum, meanwhile, is a comedic delight as Eivind, a carefree heartthrob who effortlessly inspires a viewer to let down his or her guard and laugh a little.
Andersen Lie, moreover, juggles a remarkably challenging character. Aksel gets some soul-searching monologues late in the film that confront serious matters of art and life. The weight of aging, the weight of responsibility, and the weight of adapting to a changing world show on his face. One also sees his heart flip in Reinsve’s presence. This film navigates the complex emotions and heartaches that arise as love leads people down different paths. Yet Trier also makes clear the impressions that last long after relationships end. The Worst Person in the World is a therapeutically soul-searching movie. Watch it with the comfort of knowing that nobody ever truly has life figured out.