For decades film has told the stories of young people finding their way in the world to dazzling effect. There is something so universally relatable about those late teenage years where you feel like you’ve figured it all out and seeing it with the gift of hindsight you realize that those answers wouldn’t come until much later. The hard truth is that coming of age doesn’t happen all at once and that next phase of life brings with it doubts, big decisions and so much more uncertainty. Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World posits that people don’t stop growing up, even when they’re grown.
Julie (Renate Reinsve) has recently finished floating through college, cycling between a handful of majors and a handful of men. She settles on photography and older cartoonist Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie,) respectively but despite committing to these big life decisions, Julie is far from confident. Pushing 30 she still feels insecure and caged by the trappings of adulthood.
When Aksel starts pushing for kids, Julie starts to pull back. An encounter with a young man, Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), at a party sends Julie even deeper into a bout of self doubt and another round of questioning her life with Aksel.
One of the dirty secrets about growing up is that you’re never really done with it. Once you move away from home and finish school, there is an expectation — often one we put on ourselves — that we should have it all figured out. One’s late twenties are an era under-explored in film, but they can be a truly chaotic transition between still feeling like a kid and all the responsibilities of adulthood.
Julie is going through the motions with Aksel, she does love him, but isn’t ready to fully commit to a life with him. Instead she self sabotages and makes herself feel unworthy of the love offered by Aksel and Eivind alike. She isn’t really the worst person in the world, but on a lot of days she feels like she might be.
Reinsve navigates all the elements of Julie masterfully. She has a striking resemblance to Dakota Johnson and brings every bit of the same charisma to this rollicking role. Not wanting to waste an electric performance, The Worst Person in the World matches her energy throughout. Early chapters are funny — one person in my screening literally cackled multiple times — and dynamically shot. One sequence sees Julie freeze time as she runs across the city, another presents a psychedelic mushroom trip about as chaotically as you’ll see in any film.
As Julie starts to mature, the film’s tone matches. The same side splitting movie induces tears by it’s conclusion. Trier’s film whipsaws between tones but they never feel unearned. A lesser production likely could not have navigated its swirling emotion so effectively.
What makes The Worst Person in the World so special, and one of the best movies of whichever year it does get released, is the empathy it feels for Julie. Trier believes in his protagonist more than she believes in herself. In the confident filmmaking, her struggles are important, her insecurities valid, even if she may not always feel like they are
On any level you want to view it, The Worst Person in the World is one of the best movies of the burgeoning decade. Tackling a tumultuous period of life with such humor and grace is impressive and Trier finds a way to wring emotional depth as well. A beautiful film, not to be missed when it does hit theaters sometime in 2022. 10/10