NYFF Review: 'The Worst Person in the World' Is an Ecstatic Race to Find Yourself Directed by Joachim Trier
Starring Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie, Herbert Nordrum
Published Sep 29, 2021Sometimes as a modern moviegoer, my jaded mind is mildly skeptical of stories I think I have seen before (even if I have historically been partial to them). Depending on who you ask, there apparently are only seven or six or maybe just three types of story plots. My arrogance was happily undermined by The Worst Person in the World, the new Norwegian dramedy directed by Joachim Trier. Whatever sensational details the synopsis withholds on paper, the film unleashes with cinematic panache and poetic license.
Julie (Renate Reinsve, who won Best Actress at Cannes for her performance) is entering her 30s and floundering in adulthood, jumping from one interest to the next and never quite finding her thing, though she does settle down (temporarily) with underground cartoonist Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie). Her character is one of those people you meet with an intangible charisma, a person both intoxicating and frustrating, a captivating enigma. Able to change her expression in a million different ways in a single shot, Reinsve is magnetic as she dances through one scene to the next in this role. One moment her wistful eyes carry the film's heavier meditations on the trappings of nostalgia and meaning of life, and in the next they become equally playful and determined to seize the unknown.
Told in 12 chapters (with a prologue and epilogue), the film's divisions are seemingly less about specific milestones and more like the diary of a daydreamer living in her head (Julie also dabbles in writing, after all). Everything from the cinematography, where time literally stands still, to the soundtrack (including Daphni, in a prologue for the ages, and Harry Nilsson) add to the notion that we are inside the head of someone who is the star of her own movie. Sometimes, a third-person omniscient narrator overlaps with Julie's exact dialogue or confirms the feelings behind the contradictory sentiments she says to both Aksel and later love interest Eivind (Herbert Nordrum). It's Julie's world and we are just passing through. Here, the "worst person in the world" is someone who pursues what they want at the expense of hurting others, but they also perhaps end up happiest in a world where we all meet the same end. The heavy-handedness of lessons learned in certain scenes is where the film stumbles slightly, but it doesn't take away the magic that continues to pulse in this thriving, vivacious film.
The Worst Person in the World is catnip for romantics — expressing the inexpressible — and perhaps a necessary reminder that great stories are in the details that can surprise you time and again. It captures the intangible je ne sais quoi of an evasive rapture, and Reinsve is its spectacular instrument.
The 2021 New York Film Festival runs from September 24 to October 10. Get info at the festival website. (NEON)