(The 2022 Sundance Film Festival ran January 20-30 all virtually. Check out Bears Rebecca Fonté’s movie review of The Worst Person In The World. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)
The Worst Person In The World is the third part of Joachim Trier’s Oslo trilogy, and was selected as Norway’s entry for best international feature for the Academy Awards. Trier’s first feature Oslo, 31 August also premiered at Sundance in 2011. If you haven’t seen the first two parts, don’t worry, because though they add shading to the secondary character Aksel Willman (Anders Danielsen Lie), this film is really about Julia (Renate Reinsve), a lifelong dabbler who searches for meaning in a variety of pursuits and relationships. In his intro to the film at Sundance, writer/director Joakim TriEr revealed that he and Co-writer Eskil Vogt wrote the entire film around the lead actress who had so impressed them 10 years earlier but who had not done much film work since.
Julia is the kind of character we all recognize. Never satisfied in her current activity, she’s ready to jump headfirst into something that she knows nothing about just for a new challenge. This lack of satisfaction carries over into her personal life making her possibly with The Worst Girlfriend Ever, but I don’t think she’s anywhere near the Worst Person. She finally seems to capture her own identity when she writes an article about performing oral sex that receives a bit of notoriety. Unfortunately that’s the sort of thing that can define you but doesn’t necessarily lead you to a lifelong career, although it does lead to a hilarious scene in which she and Aksel attempt to figure out if her family has read it.
Constructed as a series of 12 chapters plus a prologue and epilogue, complete with chapter headings, The Worst Person In The World gives us a meticulous view of a woman floating through life although, like the men in her life, we can never truly capture her. By showing us the structure behind the story, Trier manages to keep us at a distance despite the intimacy of the story. With that in place, and the title, the audience is asked to constantly evaluate whether or not Julia is the worst person in the world. Sure she cheats on her longtime boyfriend Aksel, but it seemed like she had to in order to get to the next understanding of her life. In fact, the film seems to call on us to cheer for her to cheat. Julia is all the unrestrained dissatisfaction that we have in our own lives. She is free too flit from one career to the next with no consequences in a way I think we all would admit we would like.
Trier understands that the way we judge something is often tied into the language we use, so the chapter headings in addition to giving us a context for what we are about to see also subtly influence our understanding of it. For example, the section in which Julia meets Elvind (Herbert Nordrum), the man she goes to when she leaves Aksel, is titled “Cheating” despite the fact that the entire exchange between the two characters is nonphysical and most of the dialogue is about whether or not what they are doing is cheating.
Reinsve received the best actress honor at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival for this performance and she really does carry the film. Her two male partners are just as strong, with Anders Danielsen Lie delivering a nuanced performance that can only come from thinking about his character for 10 years. I think the mistake is to think about this film as a romantic comedy or as an answer to rom coms. The Worst Person In The World is really a coming of age film that knows full well that people don’t really come of age until their late 20s or possibly early 30s. Everything that happens to Julia plays into her final peace in the film whether or not her journey has truly ended.
The Worst Person In The World played in the Spotlight section of Sundance Film Festival 2022. It was also reviewed here by M.J. O’Toole.
– Bears Rebecca Fonté (@BearsFonte)
Sundance 2022; The Worst Person In The World movie review; Joachim Trier