The Worst Person in the World

The Worst Person in the World ★★★★★

I honestly don't think I would love this film as much as I do if I was younger than 27. I've been trying to figure out what exactly makes it special and what compelled me to shrug off any and all nitpicks, to just say fuck it and slap the five stars on it, no questions asked. But aside from the fact that it's just exceptionally edited and directed, intoxicatingly shot, and with performances so honest that any perceived character contradictions register instead as raw, unrefined truth—I really just think The Worst Person in the World is good at being ordinary. And by that, I mean it throws itself fully into the mess of its characters, in moments that normally wouldn't get screen time for seemingly obvious reasons.

Whatever romantic comedy conventions you're expecting are out the window very quickly. People change their mind often, and for admittedly selfish and irresponsible reasons. Important sequences that, in other movies, would normally influence everything afterward on a deep thematic level are allowed to stand on their own as just another messy, unresolved part of life that sticks out like a sore thumb. It's a film that doesn't believe in redeeming an unlikable protagonist, but in making us let go of the idea of likability in the first place. The end result is something messy and frustrating, but oh so full of unrestrained life. It's one of the finest films of the year.

The protagonist Julie (played so well by Renate Reinsve that you genuinely forget to look for a performance while watching her) is somebody whom I'd never want to spend too much time with. But Reinsve's performance and Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt's script ground her terrible decisions in this sense of emotional wanderlust so all-encompassing yet so vague that you only believe you understand exactly what pushes her from one partner to the next, from one breakup line to another. As a privileged millennial living under climate change, submerged in the chaos of media, and surrounded by the world's endless possibilities, Julie finds herself rebelling against anything that has even the slightest bit of certainty to it. But she isn't a character simply driven by hedonism; there's also fear and insecurity and the weight of family and the specter of death mixed into her cocktail. She branches out and tries to experience whatever she can, not because she believes nothing is true, but precisely because she believes everything can be true for her.

Clearly, it's a little difficult for me to articulate how uniquely this film tosses its threads together. But watching it in the moment, it just feels right. When Trier softens dialogue underneath narration that's just saying the exact same thing, it feels right. When he breaks from the breakneck pace of his narrative just to focus on the Norwegian landscape; or when he jerks his camera around to follow a character passionately performing a song on the air drums; or when he literally stops time to make romance possible—it just feel right. There's something so powerful about how he allows us to understand monumental emotional shifts in his characters' lives as they simply go about their day. But even these shifts simply lead into the next day. And the next, and the next. By the end there seems to be nothing but regret over how every choice Julie's made hasn't actually fixed everything. But there's this profound sense of wonder for the things in her life that have suddenly taken on meaning along the way. There's a sense of hope in her simply watching one day lead into the next.

I don't know if all of that is just a shallow reading, but it certainly doesn't feel like it does the film justice. All I know is that I found it unexpectedly moving to see a film take such an interest in somebody's mistakes and ordinary flaws, and to push them through the mess they've made with just as much sympathy and sensitivity. I don't feel like I've grown up yet, and I don't think I'll ever feel that way. I feel like it's too late for me. And maybe that's what growing up is.

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