Released in U.S. theaters this week, “The Worst Person in the World” is not to be missed. Not if you want to see director-co-screenwriter Joachim Trier reinvent the romcom and introduce a captivating new star in Renate Reinsve whose livewire performance is sublime in every detail.
Expect this scintillating sensation from Norway to score big at Oscar time. Reinsve already won the Best Actress prize at Cannes. And why should she and Trier’s movie stop there? They have magic to do that will leave you dazed and dazzled in ways you can’t predict.
Reinsve plays Julie, a modern woman about to turn 30 who swerves from career choices—medicine, psychology, writing, photography—and men who try to fit her into boxes—wife, mother, nurturer, sexual playmate—she thinks of as traps.
Julie is a whirling dervish living on a hunch and a hope, too much of a moving target to be pinned down. And yet the first and final images of the movie find her as still as a statue—one on a terrace overlooking nighttime Oslo, the last contemplating photos she’s just taken of an actress similarly struck with paralyzing doubt.
Like a novel, the film is divided into 12 chapters with a prologue and epilogue, all tracing Julie’s four-year journey toward a goal just out of reach. For men, indecision is often portrayed as romantic yearning. For women, it unfairly implies an immaturity meant to guilt Julie into thinking she’s the worst person in the world. Not in this movie. Not by a longshot.
And so we watch Julie hook up with Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), a comic-book artist nearly 15 years older but entranced by Julie’s spontaneity. On a weekend visit to Aksel’s large family, he speaks about wanting children, which Julie rebuffs, citing difficulties with her neglectful father.
After leaving a book party for the adored Aksel (she’s jealous), Julie crashes a wedding celebration where she meets a married stranger, a goofball barista named Eivind, charmingly played by Herbert Nordrum. Both flirt outrageously but stop short of cheating.
These moonstruck cliches take on a thrilling vitality thanks to the visual mischief of Trier’s direction. At one point, Julie sprints across town to kiss Eivind as all the people she passes stand frozen in time as if these lovers are the only elements capable of motion.
The scene plays like a musical, in stark contrast to the piercing moment when Julie tells Aksel that they don’t belong together and we watch his soul shatter. Lie, cited as Best Supporting Actor by the National Society of Film Critics, exudes a startling gravity and grace.
The film’s daring mix of humor and hurt continues when Julie and Eivind, now a couple, try psychedelic mushrooms and the ensuing comic exaggerations stray into a disturbing visual representation of Julie’s rage against her father.
Julie’s unexpected pregnancy and shocking news about Aksel spark a reunion between the former lovers that typifies Trier’s brilliance at showing how life laughs at our plans to control it. It’s a delicate balance that Reinsve and Lie infuse with sharp wit and emotional truth.
Trier replaces dumb Hollywood fantasies with the ache that comes when pleasure and pain knock you sideways. It’s no accident that Trier chooses “Waters of March,” the poetic Antonio Carlos Jobim song, sung by Art Garfunkel, to play over his film’s end credits.
“A stick, a stone, it’s the end of the road/it’s the rest of a stump/it’s a little alone/it’s a sliver of glass/it is life/it’s the sun/It is night/it is death/it’s a trap/it’s a gun.”
This collage of images mirror an exhilarating gift of a film that celebrates both the joy and chaos of existence. All of which add up to a life, Julie’s life, with its quicksilver flashes of desire touched with sadness. I have only the best things to say about “The Worst Person in the World”—this new gold standard for romantic comedy hits you like a shot in the heart.