No matter how hard we try, we can never plan out our whole lives; it’s simply impossible. But many still try, and added structure can lead them to great things, but they will always lack excitement. Julie (Renate Reinsve), the main character of Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, is no such person. She is a gleeful mess, a young woman with no idea what dreams she wants to chase but with the knowledge she is chasing something.
A humorous narrator takes us through her whimsical decisions after leaving high school. She begins as a surgical student, a subject she enrolled in purely because it’s hard to get accepted, before wish-washing her way to photography, where she finds at least some purpose. Then, she meets a comic book artist at a party, and her life is changed forever. His name is Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), and he quickly enamours the much younger Julie. Here we realise the film’s structure is in 12 chapters, each easing us through her life.
Before we know it, we are in the midst of something rather unique. On the surface, Trier’s film is a rom-com, home to both true belly laughs and dazzling romance. And yet, it’s also a coming-of-age film with no clear path as to how our heroine comes of age; we just feel she has by the end. When I say no clear path, a lot does happen; it just doesn’t all correlate to changing her ways. The most crucial moment is when she meets Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), the second man she falls for.
The romance aspect of the film is at its strongest between Eivind and Julie. Their meeting is a classic romantic evening where the two push the boundaries of what is acceptable to do between two strangers and have it not called cheating. It’s intoxicating and perfectly idealised. And when they decide, to hell with it, they want to be together and not with anyone else, Trier stops time for them in one of my favourite sequences of the year. It’s all brilliantly done.
But that’s only one side of the coin, the fun part, the part we all wish our lives could be all of the time. Aksel takes us through the other side, the heartbreaking side. He’s a bemused man when he gets dumped. He’s middle-aged now, and despite that, this young woman seems like all he’s ever known. They fight and plead, it’s not pretty, but it’s real. And then he leaves the narrative with almost a cut to black to be replaced, and just when we think that is that, he returns.
The final two chapters of the film reunite Aksel and Julie under tragic circumstances, and if she comes of age anywhere specifically, it’s here. I won’t go into the detail, but they find the closure their relationship lacked and deal with the consequences of lost love. Seeing them fall apart the way they do is incredibly moving, and Lie, in particular, will make tears in any theatre flow. Fluttering through life is nothing to be ashamed of, but even so, reality catches up with all of us, and that is what Julie learns harshly.
So, when the credits roll, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve just seen something near perfect. A concoction of both sweet and sour with maybe a pinch of some secret ingredient to bring it all together, a recipe it would seem results in one of the finest films of the year. Perhaps what will stay with you the most is just how relatable Julie can often be because we’ve all coasted around at some point, even if only for a little while. When those final two chapters come, many audience members will receive the blunt realisations Julie does. I know I did.
The Worst Person in the World marks a wonderful achievement for Joachim Trier and his cast, and it should become the measuring stick by which all modern Rom-Coms are measured.
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