Joachim Trier’s last film, Thelma, dealt with a young woman wielding psychokinetic powers, but his latest, The Worst Person in the World manages to feel even more in tune with the ethereal, despite its grounding in the real world. Here is a film where feelings take form in inspired ways, from love to guilt to the angst of turning 30 in a very funny romcom about just how long it can take to truly grow up.
We follow a couple of years in the life of Julie (Renate Reinsve), a woman getting close to 30 who hasn’t yet found a calling in her life, be that romantic or professional. She flits between a stint as a medical student to trying out psychology to pouring her energies into a possible photography career, her ability and desire to really commit to any one thing rarely more than fleeting. Instead, stability arrives in the form of Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie) a 44 year old comics writer with whom Julie falls swiftly and passionately in love.
Their courtship is fantastic, funny and sexy, and both Reinsve and Lie are just magnetic. A sparkling, unintrusive soundtrack adds extra magic to the good times, while Trier’s excellent script finds consistently clever ways to tap into the frustration that is not ever being able to truly know what someone feels whenever the relationship stumbles. Julie’s feelings aren’t always able to be put into words, and Trier finds ways to balance our empathy with her with our empathy for the sometimes-frustrated Aksel, who isn’t afforded the same insights into Julie’s headspace that we are.
Trier and Reinsve walk that fine, classic romcom line in which Julie is charming and deeply sympathetic in our eyes, but the irritation she might cause others is also readily apparent as she bumbles from job to job and party to party, annoyed by small talk and the pushy expectations of acquaintances and even strangers. It’s whilst trying to dodge one of these conversations – at a wedding party she has crashed – that Julie meets Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), and their instant, supernova-hot chemistry throws what little balance she has in her life out the window.
Eivind is closer to Julie’s age and far more easygoing than the rigorous Aksel, and their instant spark at the party, not to mention their outrageous flirting techniques, grows to consume Julie. At the height of her fantasising, Trier conjures up a truly miraculous sequence in which Julie is able to freeze time for a day for everyone but her and Eivind, and the pair swish through a static Oslo. It’s a beautifully romantic piece of wish-fulfilment that doubles as an audacious stylistic and technical coup.
Broken up into twelve distinct chapters, bookended by a prologue and epilogue, Trier’s tale of young fickleness and indecisiveness could have easily come across as indulgent or annoyingly mannered, but there’s so much fizz and joy to The Worst Person in the World that this is never the case. At some point in the movie, each and every character has a brief moment where they wonder if the evocative title applies to them, but Trier’s masterclass in funny empathy and understanding ensures that we feel nothing but happiness in their company.