Bitter truths in ‘Worst Person in the World’
“The Worst Person in the World” marks the powerful conclusion to director Joachim Trier’s unhurried Oslo Trilogy, following “Reprise” (2006) and “Oslo, August 31st” (2011) (if you haven’t seen them, fix that soon).
Anders Danielsen Lie, the star of the previous films, returns as a comic book artist called Aksel, but this film belongs to Renate Reinsve who surely ought to have swept the end of year acting awards. She won the Best Actress laurels at Cannes—every other award program that failed to do so was in error. We first see her character, Julie, cutting an arrestingly slender figure on a terrace, smoking, texting, smirking in her spaghetti-strapped little black dress. In a highly amusing prologue we observe the young woman’s academic progress, swapping pre-med for psych for photography and changing hairstyles and partners with each reinvention. Ends up working in a bookstore and ditching her boyfriend for Aksel.
He moves Julie into his flat and we see they’re enthusiastic partners in bed, but filled with increasing disagreements over larger questions, like having kids. He’s also upset by the film adaptation of his comic book because it has “housetrained” his crass hero, Bobcat (the producers have removed the cat’s “iconic butthole” from the movie). Julie flaunts sexual energy and makes sharp proclamations like, “If men had periods, that’s all we’d hear about.” Reinsve’s highly expressive face always makes us feel she’s inviting us in on a private joke. Inevitably, she leaves Aksel, too, dropping him with the ultimate breakup line/riddle: “I do love you…and I don’t love you.”
When she leaves, there’s a great scene where she freezes time and departs Aksel’s life with him and all the other Oslofolk frozen in place. Soon she finds herself pursuing Eivind (Herbert Nordrum, a man no doubt already fatigued of being called “the Norwegian Adam Driver”). He’s paired up with Sunniva (Maria Grazia Di Meo), a thirst trap environmentalist, who eagerly shows off her post-yoga assets on social medi. When Eivind can’t come back from the store without complaints about the way his grocery list impacts the lives of indigenous people around the world—Julie’s pheromones become too much for him to overcome.
“The Worst Person in the World” unrolls in a series of chapters with names like “Julie’s Narcissistic Circus” (it involves a session of magic mushroom munching that ends with menstrual blood used as warpaint). Throughout, Trier’s camera wanders the capital city and showcases the sterling natural vistas and socialized health care that make Norway such a desirable country to inhabit.
In a powerful ending suite, Julie reconnects with Aksel, as he wilts in a hospital room due to a serious illness. He rocks Converse sneakers and skinny jeans in addition to his hospital gown and delivers as moving a portrait of Gen X despair as you’ve ever seen. The world of his youth has disappeared—Aksel can no longer put his hands on records and comics in brick-and-mortar spaces “I can only look back.” His bravura performance hits with hammer blows in the end. What began as a fun sex romp comedy turns into something much deeper. It's an elegy for an earlier age full of rueful smiles and bitter truths, carried off by Trier’s assured direction and two excellent central performances.