Nominated for Academy Awards in the Best International Feature and Best Original Screenplay categories, Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World” (Neon) is deserving of all the accolades it has earned.
Set in present-day Oslo, the movie is not, in fact, about Vladimir Putin or Donald Trump.
“The Worst Person in the World,” is “a film in 12 chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue.” It features narration and an occasionally comedic tone that is reminiscent of the best Woody Allen romantic comedies. It is also darkly serious, addressing issues of commitment, family, health, adulthood, and most of all love.
When we first encounter Julie (Renate Reinsve), she’s in medical school. She used to be a “top student,” but there are too many distractions (“interruptions and updates”), and her “gnawing unease” had returned. Briefly switching to psychology when she realized her interest are in the soul and the mind, not the body, she dyed her hair pink and took her place in a lecture hall alongside classmates she described as “mostly girls with borderline eating disorders.”
But as with most things, Julie grew bored, slept with a professor, broke up with a boyfriend, and changed her major once again; this time to photography. A brief hookup with one of her models was followed by a serious relationship with popular comic book artist Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie). A few years her senior, he’s the most grounding influence she’s had thus far. They move in together and ride the waves of romance, which includes interactions with other couples (some of whom have obnoxious children), as well as Julie’s parents.
As is her habit, Julie begins to lose interest in Aksel. At a wedding party she crashes, she meets barista Eivind (Herbert Nordrum, making a memorable film debut), who is closer to Julie’s age. They flirt up a storm, but nothing actually happens between them. Julie, who is trying her hand at writing (erotica), works in a bookstore, and (wouldn’t you know it?), bumps into Eivind who is there with his girlfriend Sunniva (Maria Grazia Di Meo).
Eivind and Sunniva’s relationship has been strained of late (the hilarious explanation involving the results of Sunniva’s Ancestry-like DNA test is one of the comedic high points), and before you know it, Julie and Eivind begin an affair.
Julie breaks up with Aksel in an especially heart-wrenching scene. Eivind ends it with Sunniva, and he and Julie move in together.
Now that she’s around people her own age, Julie appears happier. She even does things she wouldn’t ordinarily do, including shrooming (another very funny, if freaky, scene). But just as she’s settling into her new life, she finds herself back in Aksel’s orbit.
“The Worst Person in the World” shifts emotional gears during the last few chapters, and you shouldn’t be surprised if you find yourself crying along with the characters during some of the seriously sadder moments. If there’s one complaint, it would be that the movie is about 30 minutes too long. However, it’s to the credit of writer/director Trier, and his outstanding cast, that “The Worst Person in the World” movie ranks highly among the best in recent memory.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of seven books including the expanded edition of his short story collection How to Whistle (Rattling Good Yarns Press, 2021). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.