The Worst Person in the World

The Worst Person in the World (Joachim Trier, 2021) wr. Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier; Renate Reinsve (Julie), Anders Danielson Lie (Aksel), Herbert Nordrum (Eivind)


Evaluating this film is less, for me, unusually, about the cinematography and acting, and more about the story. The Academy have nominated it for the award of Best Original Screenplay, suggesting that one's attention is drawn to the scenario, and therefore to the characters and their morality.

The film itself draws attention to the writing. Even though the screenplay is original, there is a narrator whose voice - often saying the lines just before the characters do - is like that of the omniscient narrator in a novel who knows all because she has invented all. An even more obvious structural device is the division into fourteen parts, with a title for each. These devices draw even more attention to the moral lesson that is being given by the film. The point of which is: Freedom – the freedom of Julie to do what she wants with her life.

Unfortunately, this 'freedom' is seriously circumscribed by the way the story is told. Julie is said to be 'top of her class'. She engages with more than one profession, starting with medicine, moving to psychology, and trying writing (!) and the film ends with her working as a photographer. But these involvements are marginal to the story. The male scriptwriters are not interested in showing a woman dealing with all these different preoccupations. What they are interested in is her relationship with the men in her life.

These men get many more lines than the women, particularly Aksel. We see lots of him dealing with aspects of his career (as a cartoonist), talking about it, being interviewed about it. We also see him going through the process of dying (of prostate cancer) in unpleasant length and depth. Another man, Eivind, also has a job (as a barista), and he is the character (spoiler) who gets to have a child, one of the main topics of conversation between Julie and Aksel.

Julie isn't very interested in these men's occupations. She supports Aksel, tho his drawings are shown as juvenile, but explicitly says that she wants more from life than a barista (referring to Eivind.) Nevertheless, in my reading, it's the men in the story who are the film's real interest.

Despite being top of the class et cetera, Julie has a life (as shown in this film) as contained and controlled as that of any of Jane Austen's heroines. For the writers, the only two questions are: which man will she choose, and will she have children? Her 'freedom' is shown by the final outcome (spoiler): she chooses neither (which in this context can be seen as failure). Also (merely a plot device) she (accidentally) miscarries the pregnancy she has accidentally acquired with Eivind.

A sophisticated viewer will have noticed that she has only been free to be seen engaging in her different challenging and mostly high-level occupations for limited amounts of screen time, because the writers are mainly interested in her as a vehicle for the investigation of negotiation with men.

It is true that they 'liberate' her, but it is possible that it is because they see her as being of no further interest to them. In almost the last scene she has seen Eivind with his family (including child) and turned away to whatever her unknown alternative is. The pattern of the film as a whole is of Julie moving on (as Aksel points out explicitly): she is incapable of a sustained interest in any one relationship or occupation. The background (to the whole film) is in the discussion of relationships and occupations, and the notion of freedom is implicitly an empty category. ... You may disagree.

I am indebted to Richard Brody for his insight in this excerpt from his review in The New Yorker, 7 February 2022:
"The movie offers no details about any conflict between domestic and artistic life—because Trier and his co-screenwriter, Eskil Vogt, display no interest in Julie’s artistic development or activity. The Worst Person in the World is driven by a relentless focus on Julie’s personal life, but it’s a focus that remains obliviously impersonal."

References and Links

IMDb page.

Wikipedia page (with a very full summary of the story).

Metascore: overall 90
The Atlantic
David SimsFeb 14, 2022
The Worst Person in the World swerves from bustling comedy to erotically charged romance to bittersweet drama, executing each tonal shift seamlessly even as plot twists seem to come out of nowhere.
Washington Post
Ann HornadayFeb 10, 2022
Trier and Reinsve have gifted audiences with a movie that understands the ecstasy of diving into the unknown, the flush of new love, the beauty of connecting amid unspeakable loss.
Karen GordonFeb 10, 2022
On the surface, it’s a simple enough premise: a young woman transitioning into adulthood, trying to find her place in the world. But in the hands of Norwegian director Joachim Trier, The Worst Person in the World is at one level a social satire about love, identity and relationships, and at the same time, a warm and deeply poignant look at the imperfect way life can creep up on us.
San Francisco Chronicle
Mick LaSalleFeb 7, 2022
The film has the measured and expansive quality of real life, which could have been dull. It’s anything but that. Instead, by making Julie so real and vivid, Reinsve and Trier accomplish something rare. They make everything that happens to her feel as interesting as if it were happening to you.
Arizona Republic
Bill GoodykoontzFeb 7, 2022
Occasionally you see a movie that just satisfies on all fronts — the performances, the direction, the whole package. Even less occasionally you see one that does all that and moves you, too. The Worst Person in the World is one of those.
We Got This Covered
Martin CarrFeb 4, 2022
Unsentimental, brutally honest, and staggeringly complex in its execution, intelligent cinema like this is a rarity.
Emily ZemlerFeb 4, 2022
The Worst Person in the World is a poignant reminder there is beauty in that uncertainty if we can only accept it.
Carlos AguilarFeb 4, 2022
The Worst Person in the World, Trier’s stirringly sophisticated masterpiece, unrolls in piecemeal manner, but once fully extended is a tapestry of unfeigned experiences sowed with the thread of truth, in all its painful ambivalence.
ABC News
Peter TraversFeb 4, 2022
Joachim Trier’s scintillating Oscar contender from Norway, led by a captivating new star in Renate Reinsve, sets a new gold standard for romantic comedy just before it sneaks up and hits you like a shot in the heart.
Screen Rant
Sarah Bea MilnerFeb 3, 2022
It's a rich story that forgoes a traditional format, challenging the conventions of the industry. It's progressive, it's unapologetically feminist, and it's unforgettable.
The Associated Press
Lindsey BahrFeb 2, 2022
There is a refreshing honesty in this script, penned by Trier and his longtime collaborator Eskil Vogt, that engages with nuance and the impossible complexities of life in a way that most “rom-coms” avoid like the plague.
Vince ManciniFeb 1, 2022
I find myself at a bit of a loss when trying to explain exactly what about it had me so engaged, probably for the same reasons Julie can’t seem to decide on a career. The Worst Person in the World feels like life. And how do you sum up a life?
Entertainment Weekly
Leah GreenblattJan 21, 2022
Worst has no shortage of gorgeous-people problems — more than enough, in fact, to fill 12 cinematic "chapters" — but it vibrates with real life, a film so fresh and untethered to rom-com cliché it might actually reshape the idea of what movies like this can be.
The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
Chandler LevackSep 9, 2021
Trier has an incredible ear for dialogue and can observe the pitiful drama of a millennial breakup like no other.
The Guardian
Peter Bradshaw
Trier has taken on one of the most difficult genres imaginable, the romantic drama, and combined it with another very tricky style – the coming-of-ager – to craft something gloriously sweet and beguiling.
The Telegraph
Robbie Collin
The film’s focus may be tight – just a few tangled, formative years – but it encompasses so much.
Vanity Fair
Richard LawsonJul 13, 2021
Trier pulls a lot of stylistic tricks in the film, but they somehow never play like gimmicks, like adornments merely there to show off the talent of their creator. The film has a lilting, lively rhythm; the glimpses we see of months and years in Julie’s life ably provide a whole picture.
The Film Stage
Ed Frankl
The film’s opening quirky comedy routines give way to something much richer––a startlingly observant, sharp, romantic, provocative, and poignant view of millennial culture and how life comes at you fast.
Stephanie ZacharekFeb 4, 2022
The Worst Person in the World is a comedy, not a drama. But it’s ruthless in the way the best comedies can be.
New York Magazine (Vulture)
Angelica Jade BastienFeb 3, 2022
The Worst Person in the World acts as a forceful reminder that the entanglements between women and the love interests dancing in and out of their lives matter less than the lifelong relationship we must maintain with ourselves.
The New York Times
A.O. ScottFeb 3, 2022
If The Worst Person in the World is about Julie’s indecision, it’s also about Trier’s ambivalence. Some of the suspense in the film comes from wondering what he will do with her, and whether, as much as he loves her, he can figure out how to set her free.
Siddhant AdlakhaJan 21, 2022
The Worst Person in the World is a concentrated emotional dose of living through the last half-decade of uncertainty.
Film Threat
Ray LoboJan 21, 2022
The Worst Person in the World is a wildcat in a world of domesticated dramedies and romantic comedies. Trier has made one of the best movies of this year or any year.
Los Angeles Times
Justin ChangJul 19, 2021
Nobody here actually calls Julie The Worst Person in the World (that insult is reserved for another character entirely), but you can imagine her thinking it about herself as she considers the mistakes she’s made and the people she’s hurt. But over the course of this charming, wistful, ineffably tender movie, you also see her learn to embrace the possibility of good in herself and in every precious, unhurried moment. It’s time well spent.
Guy Lodge
In essaying Julie, a character at once watery and opaque, shaped by everything around her but vocally resistant to influence, Reinsve has a tricky assignment that she nails with remarkable fluidity and grace.
Austin Chronicle
Marjorie BaumgartenFeb 17, 2022
Julie’s restlessness is anchored by a self-confidence that Reinsve conveys guilelessly and brilliantly.
Josh LarsenDec 16, 2021
Reinsve gives Julie both a hard edge and soft center, so that we root for her even when she makes decisions with which we disagree.
Slant Magazine
Pat BrownJul 16, 2021
The film may be the prime example of how to restore fun, significance, and even a little bit of sex to the well-worn terrain of the romantic comedy.
The A.V. Club
A.A. DowdFeb 3, 2022
For all of Trier’s stylistic flair, the best scenes in The Worst Person in the World are unadorned conversations, little pockets of chemistry or conflict. The film peaks with a self-contained romantic episode, beautifully written and performed
The Playlist
Iana Murray
Detailing the thrills and fears of turning 30 down to its mundane but absorbing minutiae, Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier’s fifth feature is a pure delight. Laugh-out-loud funny and heartbreaking in equal measure, it’s perhaps his best film since “Oslo, August 31st.”
The New Yorker
Anthony LaneFeb 7, 2022
The Worst Person in the World strikes me as believable, beautiful, roving, annoying, and frequently good for a laugh. Like most of Trier’s work, it also takes you aback with its sadness, which hangs around, after the story is over, like the smoke from a snuffed candle.
Wall Street Journal
Joe MorgensternFeb 3, 2022
This vibrant, buoyant drama, intimate in scope instead of vast, takes us to Oslo—not exactly another planet, but an adventure all the same—where it builds a world of mercurial passions while its enchanting heroine, Julie ( Renate Reinsve ), belatedly and erratically comes of age over the course of several years.
Paste Magazine
Brianna ZiglerSep 27, 2021
Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World is as indecisive as its endlessly curious heroine, but it is an invigorating, exceedingly kind portrait conveying that the journey is just as—if not more—crucial as the place we end up.
The Hollywood Reporter
Jordan Mintzer
More than ever, Trier reveals how well he can keep shifting tones and emotional arcs without losing any narrative momentum.
Time Out
Dave Calhoun
Any film that can combine questions of mortality with funny, fully alive scenes of sex, social awkwardness, professional screw-ups and throwaway fun is a rich one. Its brilliant, full-on performance from Reinsve deserves to be celebrated far and wide.
Screen Daily
Wendy Ide
A chaotic, unpredictable portrait of a chaotic, unpredictable individual, The Worst Person in the World is a spirited and thrillingly uninhibited piece of filmmaking from Joachim Trier.
Jason Solomons
This is a film of unfolding delights, providing a terrific canvas for the actors.
John Bleasdale
Though the film tries for ironic detachment – twelve chapters with a prologue and epilogue – it ultimately can’t wink away its own heartfelt compassion and sympathy, even as it refuses to provide any trite solutions.
Movie Nation
Roger MooreFeb 4, 2022
Reinsve makes a more beguiling than compelling lead, letting on Julie’s “flakey” qualities, giving us hints that she’s self-aware enough to be bothered by them.
David Ehrlich
Quick, vibrant, pulsing with all sorts of crossover appeal until a slightly moribund energy takes hold toward the end, Trier’s film is never more fun than when Julie is second-guessing herself and/or trying to keep time from slipping through her fingers.
Boston Globe
Mark FeeneyFeb 10, 2022
Visually, it’s the experience of falling in love turned inside out. The Worst Person in the World is showing how it looks to feel like the only couple in the world.
The New Yorker
Richard Brody Feb 7, 2022
The movie offers no details about any conflict between domestic and artistic life—because Trier and his co-screenwriter, Eskil Vogt, display no interest in Julie’s artistic development or activity. The Worst Person in the World is driven by a relentless focus on Julie’s personal life, but it’s a focus that remains obliviously impersonal.

Garry Gillard | reviews | New: 10 March, 2022 | Now: 27 December, 2022