Opportunities and relationships don’t always present themselves at the right time. Someone can go about living for years and never find a partner, only to stumble upon multiple options at precisely the same moment. Having to choose between two – or more – prospective partners can be difficult, and it’s made even more complicated when a romance has already officially kicked off with one of them. The Worst Person of the World is focused in part on one woman’s attraction to two men, but it ultimately becomes more about who she is on her own.
Julie (Renate Reinsve) goes through a series of options as she navigates what her career will be, from doctor to psychologist to photographer. When she meets Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), a graphic novelist, the two begin dating. Some time later, she also meets Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), forming an instant connection that neither wants to act on because they are both with other people. Drawn to Eivind, Julie breaks up with Aksel and moves in with Eivind, still unsure of what exactly she wants and which man, if any, might be the right one to help her on her own journey.
The Worst Person in the World does include two love interests for one women, but it’s about much more than that. The film comes from Joachim Trier, who made his directorial debut with Reprise and who considers this the third and final chapter in his Oslo trilogy, whose middle segment is Oslo, August 31st. Trier has proven his ability to follow interesting characters in a particularly fascinating and alluring way, adding a touch of magic and whimsy to his stories that makes them impossible to resist.
This film is divided into twelve chapters, with a prologue and an epilogue to bookend them. There is no standard length, and each is introduced by a title that summarizes the contents. While splitting someone’s life up into segments might be difficult and not paint a fully accurate picture of who they are, this film does manage to accomplish that, providing background information on Julie as a person in its opening and then checking in with her at both formative and insignificant moments that affect her present and future, with Aksel and Eivind noteworthy bullet points along the way.
The three characters at the center of The Worst Person in the World are complex and compelling, and they feel very much complete, not as if they exist solely for the sake of this film’s events. Julie is likeable and friendly, but she does not always carry herself in the most mature way and doesn’t follow through on some of what she starts. Aksel has an ego that leads him to reject criticism of his work, doubling down when he is accused of sexism in a way that doesn’t reflect well on him. Eivind is enthusiastic and curious, but he is strongly influenced by those around him, first his climate change-obsessed girlfriend Sunniva (Maria Grazia Di Meo) and then Julie.
This film’s performers have received deserved acclaim for their work, with Reinsve winning the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival and Lie receiving the Best Supporting Actor award from the National Society of Film Critics. Reinsve is natural and radiant on screen, and while this film’s title is not a fair assessment of her character, she does do a remarkable job of painting her as a combination of appealing, mischievous, and unpredictable. Lie and Nordrum portray love interests who are not all that alike but who offer Julie something she needs in that moment. Norway’s Oscar-shortlisted submission for Best International Feature is another intoxicating and captivating effort from Trier, a portrait of ordinary events made inherently involving and cinematic.
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The Worst Person in the World opens in NY and LA on Friday, February 4th before expanding to additional cities beginning February 11th.