As much as The Worst Person in the World adheres to many of the standard ingredients of the “romantic comedy”, to refer to Joachim Trier‘s as one would be doing it a massive disservice.
Detailed over 12 chapters (and both a prologue and epilogue), the film gives us a look into a certain period of time in the life of Julie (Renate Reinsve), a woman in the midst of a personal and professional change. The haste at which she changes her college major and falls into a relationship pattern with comic-book artist Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie) suggests she’s prone to almost spontaneous bouts of inspiration as to how she should navigate her life, and it’s this defiance that the film delights in highlighting as she creates her own pursued code.
No moment speaks to this more than when she encounters Elvind (Herbert Nordrum) at a wedding she has spontaneously crashed. The chemistry between the two is instant, but both being in relationships presents the obvious dilemma, though it doesn’t stop them from setting boundaries as to what they can experience together that’ll allow connection without technically cheating. It’s sequences such as this that highlight her flawed character – some might even be repulsed at her brazenness – but there’s such a naturalistic energy to her approach that I imagine many viewers will see themselves in Julie, whether they want to or not.
As Julie, Reinsve is nothing short of revolutionary. She’s a complex character. Hard to love for some, but still easy to barrack behind as she negotiates the pros and cons of her life, weighing up Aksel and Elvind against each other. Similarly, Lie and Nordrum inject layered nuances into their performances as two men, essentially unaware of the other, who are also traversing their existence, though their evident devotion to Julie isn’t quite as reciprocated.
Trier and co-writer Eskil Vogt have fun toying with the rom-com genre tropes throughout, serving up meet cutes and situational humour alongside whimsical fantasy sequences and invasive conversations that, despite their sometimes heightened mentality, feel incredibly grounded. There’s always a sense of realism here, further elevated by Reinsve whose poor decision making only enhances her relatability as a character.
“The worst person in the world” she may so be ironically dubbed here, but Reinsve’s Julie and Trier’s hypnotising film are undoubtedly two of this year’s most compelling subjects. Revelling in its flawed structure, The Worst Person in the World is a brilliant ode to finding the soothing comfort in one’s own discomforting outlook.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Worst Person in the World is screening as part of this year’s Sydney Film Festival, which is being presented in-person and On Demand between November 3rd and 21st, 2021. For more information head to the official SFF page.