The Worst Person in the World – first-look review

Movie

Joachim Trier returns to Cannes with a keenly-observed drama about the often turbulent nature of modern romance.

Julie (Renate Reinsve) is in her twenties and she doesn’t know what the fuck she wants. She has a poor relationship with her father and is terminally bored. After ditching attempts to study medicine and psychology to pursue photography, she embarks on a romance with older man Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), an accomplished cartoonist who, after they sleep together for the first time, tells her they should break it off. “We’re only going to hurt each other,” he says. Julie agrees, and proceeds to fall madly in love.

Joachim Trier’s fifth feature is a sweet, sad, extremely funny character study that gets to the heart of how it feels to be on the cusp of true adulthood and completely ambivalent about it. The film’s title may or may not refer to its flighty protagonist; more likely it’s the feeling everyone experiences at some point in their lives, when they let someone down or are casually cruel with their words or actions. Presented in 12 chapters with a prologue, epilogue and omniscient female narrator, the narrative spectacle is part of the fun – think millennial Amélie without the Manic Pixie Dream Girl clichés.

Julie isn’t exactly the worst person in the world, she’s a young woman with brains and beauty and absolutely no idea what she wants out of life. She dabbles in photography and writing while holding down a job at a local bookstore. But as her relationship with Aksel continues she realises she isn’t content just being Someone’s Girlfriend. A chance encounter with the affable Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) causes further doubt in her mind. “I feel like a spectator in my own life,” she explains.

The soundtrack is a mix of Trier’s regular composer Ola Fløttum and Harry Nilsson deep cuts, underscoring the sensation of familiarity and uncanniness. The events depicted in each chapter are disparate; some amusing, others tender. Together they form a patchwork of a woman in progress that contains multitudes. From a riotous shrooms trip to an awe-inspiring romantic sequence with shades of magical realism, it’s as messy and unpredictable as love itself.

The trio of central characters are perfectly realised, with Reinsve sharing great chemistry with both Danielsen Lie and Nordrum. They bicker constantly and scold each other for their perceived flaws – they are complex and frustrating but unfailingly human. 

It’s not just the minutiae of human behaviour and relationships that Trier and his screenwriting partner Eskil Vogt are able to commit to screen. Wry observations about topics ranging from underground comics to the Gen X-Gen Y divide and fear of death add spark to the already quotable dialogue. The film is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, which might come as a surprise for those familiar with Trier and Vogt’s past work.

But there’s a truth behind every pithy utterance which feels novel, and when the script veers toward heartache it hits harder for how much we’ve come to care for the three oddballs at the film’s centre. It’s early days at Cannes 2021, but The Worst Person in the World already feels like a future classic, and Renate Reinsve is hopefully a star on the rise.

Published 9 Jul 2021

Tags: Anders Danielsen Lie Cannes Eskil Vogt Herbert Nordrum Joachim Trier Renate Reinsve The Worst Person in the World

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