A modern "dramedy" about the quest for love and meaning in contemporary Oslo. Julie struggles to find romance and a career, but ultimately finds herself.
The film world might have given up on smart romantic comedies, but nobody seems to have told Norway’s Joachim Trier. The latest feature from the director of Oslo, August 31st and Thelma is a welcome new entry in that long-neglected genre – a sexy, witty and poignant comic drama with its thumb on the rhythms of modern love-lives, and its soul anchored in the best traditions of screen romance.
It’s a double Oscar nominee, in contention for Best International Feature and Best Original Screenplay at Sunday’s ceremony, while its 34-year-old star Renate Reinsve, previously not much known outside of Norway, deservedly won Best Actress at Cannes after its premiere there last July. Its comically downbeat title makes more sense in the original Norwegian. Verdens verste menneske is a phrase with a meaning similar to “mea culpa” or “my bad”: more self-deprecating aside than brutal moral judgement.
Reinsve plays Julie, a bright, restless Oslo woman navigating her late 20s without much sense of what might lie beyond them. She’s a medical student turned psychology student turned aspiring professional photographer – which is to say bookshop employee and owner of lots of expensive camera equipment, purchased with her student loan. Our first glimpse of her is a real catch-your-breath moment: she’s standing on a balcony overlooking the city at dusk, wearing a backless cocktail dress, smoking a cigarette and looking thoughtfully at – or perhaps for – something we can’t quite apprehend. A little later, the event is revealed to be a book launch party for her boyfriend Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), a comics artist trying to branch out into more serious work. In this context, he’s the protagonist, she the beautiful accessory. The film follows Julie’s search for a life in which she can be the unambiguous lead.
Trier and his regular co-writer Eskil Vogt divide the film into 12 chapters, and mere minutes into the second, her heart is coaxing her off course. At a wedding reception, she meets Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), a genial coffee shop employee with a vague air of the comedian Pete Davidson. The chemistry between the two is instantaneous and scorching, and they decide to be as intimate as possible with each other without being unfaithful – no kissing or fumbling, but lots of sharing secrets, nibbling elbows and smelling one another’s sweat.
It sounds revolting. In fact, it’s the most romantic scene in cinema so far this year – at least for a few minutes, until a still lovelier one arrives. Following this evening of transcendent steaminess, Julie begins to reassess her relationship with Aksel, which has settled into a comfortable rut. One morning, as he’s pouring her some coffee, she clicks the kitchen light-switch and time unaccountably stops, allowing her to run off and spend a perfect day with Eivind, in a city otherwise frozen in its tracks.
The Worst Person in the World adores its characters, but it’s also head-over-heels for Oslo itself, in the same way so many American films swoon over New York.
Even when the initial heat of the central love triangle gives way to tragedy and thorny choices, the film’s teasing spirit and compassion persist. It’s a story of ordinary humans in all their muddled wonderfulness, and you can’t help but cheer for them at every contradictory turn.
Robbie Collin, The Telegraph, 24th March 2022.
Joachim Trier is the Norwegian director who gave us the disturbing telekinesis thriller Thelma (2017) and the challenging drug-addiction drama Oslo, August 31st (2011). Working with his longtime screenwriter Eskil Vogt, he has discomfited his audiences, jolted them and shocked them into realising they aren’t here for an easy ride. So if you had told me that his new film would be a tender relationship comedy with a wonderful freshness, as well as touches of Nora Ephron and David Nicholls, and that it would have me covertly choking up, sneaking looks to left and right to make sure no one was seeing me sniffling … well I wouldn’t have believed you.
But that is what has happened. Trier has taken on one of the most difficult genres imaginable, the romantic drama, and combined it with another very tricky style – the coming-of-ager – to craft something gloriously sweet and beguiling. It’s a kind of non-Rake’s Progress, or innocent’s progress, in 13 chapters, embarked on by the twentysomething heroine, Julie.
Renate Reinsve is the actor who takes on this role and she takes off like a rocket, deserving star status to rival Lily James or Alicia Vikander for her tremendously mature, sensitive and sympathetic performance.
And where does the title come from? Surely it can’t apply to Julie herself; she admittedly dumps two men in the course of the film, cheating on and lying to the second, but we don’t for a moment think of her as anything other than vulnerable, flawed and human. Like anyone else in their 20s, she is terrified of the terrible irreversibility of life choices.
Maybe the title applies to her formidable second boyfriend, the brilliant but haughty comic-book artist called Aksel (played by the Trier regular Anders Danielsen Lie) who is renowned for an aggressively sexual graphic novel series in the R Crumb style, which will soon get him into trouble with a new generation of feminists.
Julie starts out hilariously unsure about what she wants to do with her life. She is initially a medical student but then, with wide-eyed certainty, tells her long-suffering mum she wants to change course to psychology – loftily declaring that she finds the mind more interesting than the body – and then decides she wants to go into photography. She begins a relationship with a gorgeous young guy that she, with magnificent unprofessionalism, starts snogging in the middle of a photo shoot and then leaves him at a party for the smoulderingly fascinating Aksel.
But as her 20s progress, she finds that Aksel is becoming more and more famous while she is still working in a bookshop, her photography now abandoned for vague ideas about Carrie Bradshaw-type journalism or confessional fiction. Things come to a crunch when she leaves Aksel’s latest launch party early and has an intense encounter with a guy called Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) who also works in a shop. Has she, apparently heartsinkingly, found her level in life?
There are two sensational set-pieces: one when she finally plucks up the courage to tell Aksel she is leaving him, and the whole world goes into freeze-frame while she runs through the Oslo streets to find Eivind and kiss him. The second comes when she takes shrooms with Eivind and his friends, an absolute showstopper of a drug-hallucination dream sequence in which Julie finally confronts her deadbeat estranged dad.
This film is sweet and gentle and funny, in ways that are undoubtedly conventional but also very real. It’s the kind of film we’ve all seen done so badly that it’s an unexpected treat to see it done well and to realise that its themes are very important: who do you fall in love with? Who is “the one”? When do you realise that you are just settling? Reinsve’s performance is just so good. A star is born.
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, 24th March 2022.
Total Number of Responses: 54
Film Score (0-5): 4.24
98 members and guests attended the screening of the Worst person in the World. We received 54 responses which delivered a film score of 4.24. This represents a response rate of 55%. Many thanks to all.
Your collected comments are below.
“Consistently fine acting from the two lead characters, lots of humour but also conveying effectively the seriousness and importance of making good choices in both career and love. An enjoyable reminder of the challenges most of us faced many decades ago”.
“The film was nice to look at and the female lead was very attractive. Her acting skills were outstanding. What a pity as the character she played had no depth. We learn little about her except for her sexual exploits. The same goes for her two lovers. The director seemed obsessed with the leading character and her effect on men. A male fantasy?”
“Just wished I didn't know how many 'chapters' there were as I kept wondering how much worse could it get”.
“On the face of it this film is comparable to the works Mr Bradshaw cites in his review but is nothing like as tightly formulaic as the Ephron and Nicholls oeuvres though at times just as pithy and dense with recognisable experience and emotions. Unlike those elegantly constructed films it rings with authenticity and the grit and awkward lurches of fate of real life. It is extraordinarily relatable, it took me right back the cusp of thirty and the lives of friends, ex-girfriends and colleagues; the authentic frustration and rush of an existence that is careering along without your hands properly on the wheel and with no particular place to go. I too remember the background irritation of perfectly pleasant visits to older friends with the house, the job, the kids and thinking; 'Is this what I'm supposed to be aiming for? I'm nowhere near grown-up enough ...though perhaps I should be'. Some of the set pieces are painfully near perfect and unpleasantly familiar. In Renate Reinsve Trier has a wonderful canvas, her mercurial face transparent with conflicting emotion. A celebration of your right to uncertainty, the finale is quietly astonishing”.
“A film that is still resounding in my head. Familiar themes - falling in love in youth (how it feels when the world "stops" in that stunning mid-film sequence), generational issues, the reflections on death and ageing (visceral images used here). Interesting handheld camera work interspersed with slick cinematography, musical choices from across decades, clever voice-overs that melded in and out of the dialogue, touches of humour and overall a very well produced film. Although "long" it was well-paced and held my interest throughout. It gave me time to consider Julie's dilemmas. Renate Reinsve was a revelation - her expressive eyes and face giving us insight into her thoughts. I also found visual interest in the camera used to look through windows, then moving into the space (with sound), then moving out again, as if to acknowledge that we, as viewers, are just that - watching Julie's life play out. I could go on and on, but I'll leave it there! Excellent”.
“Interesting to do the film as chapters, although maybe 12 were a couple too many. The lead actress was excellent - beguiling but frustrating in her inability to stick to anything. Couldn't tell in the epilogue if the guy the actress went off with was Eivind, so left slightly confused by the ending. Another good choice. Thanks”.
“A bit too long but still enjoyable”.
“Good music, about 30 mins too long!”
“Thoroughly enjoyed this fresh film about relationships in today's world. Tender, funny, sexy, sad, happy, complicated...life...”
“Interesting topic directed and performed well”.
“Really enjoyed it and I liked the ‘chapter’ format”. “Brilliant acting”.
“A cathartic reflection of the realities facing my generation and a comforting exploration of the questions I perhaps foolishly assumed were unique to me. Elegant presentation, endearing and refreshing performances and a soundtrack that I liked very much, all coalesce into a wonderful film”.
“Fascinating film – moving, thoughtful. I liked the way it was split into chapters”.
“Great music and great story”.
“Thoroughly enjoyable. Great actress”. “A bit racy at points”.
“Every human experience and emotion in one amazing film”.
“Great fun, superbly acted – but what a rubbish title”.
“Beautifully acting – stunning film”.
“Some wonderful acting and a satisfying ending”. “Great acting, sad ending”.
“Watching her made me realise I could never be a (good) actress! Very good apart from around the drug scene- lost it a bit there”
“Very well acted – Oslo won”.
“Excellent acting – an honest view of how relationships work or don’t. People don’t really know what they want in life and this film expressed that very well”.
“Emotionally compelling. Gentle but disjointed. Not sure what to make of it”.
“Different!” “Excellent acting by all”. “Too long, complex, but she was brilliant”.
“Sensitive portrayal of the breakdown of relationships – Truly she was the worst person in the world”.
“Much to admire in this film. Great acting and score. Eminently watchable”.
“Great acting but a confusing end!”
“Life affirming in the end. Brilliant acting”.
“Is this life now?? What to do? Have a relationship? Have a family? Just wait, and see? Very well acted, especially by her partner who got cancer…...”
“Excellent acting. She really didn’t know what she wanted”.
“Powerful, emotional and acted with conviction – but the ‘chapter’ structure made it too predictable and ordinary”.
“Not an easy watch. I don’t know whether I liked this film or not!!!”
“Better towards the end…. certainly, the magic mushroom scene”.
“Difficult to rate so have gone for the middle though not ‘average’.
“Not a character I could relate to!”