Sundance 2022 Review: THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD Draws Thoroughly Modern Julie
Renate Reinsve stars in the new film by director Joachim Trier.
People. You love them, you hate them. You want to be around them sometimes, you want to be as far away as you can from them, other times. Some of us, by some miracle, end up with someone we love, to spend the rest of our lives together .. or so we'd like to believe. As we grow older, we realize more and more that human existence is frail and fleeting. And because the world we live in is increasingly getting crazier, for those of us who've found someone special, we count ourselves lucky, and hope to have that special someone by our side in our last moments.
Joachim Trier and his writing partner Eskil Vogt, as they always do, bring maturity and erstwhile wisdom to their new film, The Worst Person in the World. And they tell a story decidedly from a young woman's point of view in an ironically titled film. And Trier, again, embraces the title as one of the most literary directors working today -- the film is in chapters with prologue and epilogue, like his debut film Reprise, of what's now known as the Oslo Trilogy (along with Oslo, August 31st). Similarlu, there is an arc of young people on the verge of adulthood: careers, ambitions, disappointments, regrets ... but from a female perspective.
It starts with a young woman named Julie (Renate Reinsve), impulsively trying various majors in college: medical school, psychiatry, and then photography. Her indecisive nature limits her to working at a bookstore as she nears 30.
She meets Aksel (Trier regular Anders Danielson Lie) at a party. He is a cartoonist, whose creation, Bob Cat, a foul mouthed, very non-PC cartoon feline, has gotten some notoriety, and he is making a comfortable living off of it. Also he is much older.
Their attraction is palpable. They talk about pros and cons about getting involved with someone with their age differences; it's not going to end well. But Julie moves in with him and they become a couple. Julie has to deal with the usual challenges faced by any woman her age: the talk of having kids before it's too late, career goals (if there are any), aging parents, others' perception of her, her own prejudices, getting mansplained and psychoanalyzed about her life, and so forth.
Julie meets a total stranger, Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), at a party she just crashed. As consenting adults, they talk about the moral ethics of cheating. They reveal a lot of themselves over that one magical night but part their ways. What Julie craves is to get a handle on her life by herself, because she feels like a spectator when she is with the more 'successful' Aksel.
As usual per Trier films, there are a couple of cinematic showstoppers in The Worst Person in the world. Their simplicity and practical effects are real fun to watch.
Layered and richly textured in presenting and contrasting the object-oriented Gen-Xers and the Millennials who grew up plugged into the internet and social network -- tangible vs. intangible, nostalgia vs. impending doom -- the film speaks volumes about modern life and its seeming purposelessness. When it's all said and done, what remains is our relationship with each other and the love we have for one another. It is not my swanky vinyl collection or books on my bookshelf or how many times I watched Dog Day Afternoon, or a clever article I once wrote online that I will be remembered for.
What I admire about Trier and Vogt's characters over the years is not only their modern sensibility, but also their indomitable youthful spunk, no matter what situation they find themselves in. It would be a mistake to define them by their cultured, ultra-urban sophistication and therefore consider them hollow.
There is a sense of defiance in these characters and especially in Julie, played by Reinsve, who gives a tour-de-force performance, trying to navigate this crazy, complex and uncertain world on her own terms, even if her life decisions were bad. She doesn't resign herself into the corner of the world and retreat. She is a thoroughly modern woman and doesn't need to dress up like Annie Hall. Clothes she wears or music she listens to don't define her. It's her defiance that defines her. And I love her for that.
The Worst Person in the World makes its U.S. premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. The film opens February 4 in select U.S. theaters via Neon Releasing.
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on everything cinema and beyond can be found at www.dustinchang.com
The Worst Person in the World
- Joachim Trier
- Eskil Vogt
- Joachim Trier
- Renate Reinsve
- Anders Danielsen Lie
- Herbert Nordrum