BFI LFF 2021

The Worst Person in the World review – truly incandescent Nordic rom-com

Renate Reinsve is irresistible in Joachim Trier's exceptional and refreshing take on a well-worn genre, with shades of Frances Ha

It is almost a decade since Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha graced our screens and became a cinematic touchstone of existentialism for women in their 20s. Nothing since has quite captured the painful relatability of Greta Gerwig's Frances proclaiming: “I’m not a real person yet.” And then in strolls romantic-comedy The Worst Person in the World, the third and final instalment in Norwegian writer-director Joachim Trier’s “Oslo Trilogy,” and a dazzling and refulgent portrait of restlessness in which Frances’ iconic line could have been seamlessly added.

Cut from the same cloth, Frances and titular “worst person in the world” Julie (the absolutely radiant Renate Reinsve) would be best friends if they ever met. The latter’s chaotic life, career, relationships and apprehension approaching her thirties makes the compelling subject of Trier’s empathetic character study.

Through 12 chapters, bookmarked by a prologue and an epilogue, The Worst Person in the World unfurls Julie’s decisions through her twenties, or lack thereof. She’s an attentive medical student but – as her passions alter – diverts her studies to psychology, photography, and writing. Then she meets Askel (Anders Danielsen Lie), a 44-year-old graphic novel artist, who is pragmatic to an irritating degree but upfront in telling Julie the age gap between them won’t work out. Barrelling through red flags – he is ready to settle down and have kids, she is absolutely not – Julie nevertheless ends up falling in love and moving in.

Their hygge-y apartment exacerbates the couple’s diverging life perspectives: where Julie seeks companionship, Askel buries himself in work. It's only when she’s searching for attention elsewhere, waltzing through a party she has crashed, that Julie meets Eivind (Herbert Nordrum). By the end of the night, in the company of an equally rebellious and enigmatic stranger, they’re shotgunning promises of their fateful connection but part ways like mythic lovers.

Trier’s film disobeys just enough rom-com convention to feel original but maintains sufficient familiarity to fall within the borders of that genre label. This portrait of the millennial condition is too empathetic for any cheap shots. Paired with regular collaborator Eskil Vogt, the script is achingly tender, with just a sprinkling of melancholy. But most of all, it is Renate Reinsve’s magnetic performance that is breathtaking. It is a tricky turn for the actor, but one she plays on the right side of muddled, her heartfelt nature producing a character that comes to feel beautifully authentic.

There’s one sequence, in particular, that is destined to be the defining moment of The Worst Person in the World: Julie awakes like any normal morning, but her raging thoughts have come to a stop, and so has the world. Instead of taking this pause to contemplate what she wants out of life, she’s already on her feet, chasing a gut feeling. She runs through the streets of Oslo, now frozen in time, commuters and pedestrians suspended mid-stride. Her smile grows giddy as she reaches the cafe in which Eskel works and leans over the counter to kiss him: euphoria. Again, comparison to Greta Gerwig skipping through the streets of NYC in Frances Ha is unavoidable, yet this film's existential ponderings feel somewhat more grounded, even if moments such as this are shot in an otherworldly fashion.

The end of Julie’s twenties are defined by joy, heartbreak and a self-deprecating sense of humour. We watch as she – effortlessly remarkable, whether in an elegant black evening dress or a classic pairing of jeans and plain T – grows out her fringe and grasps at the reigns of life. Every frame in The Worst Person in the World is imbued with an unpretentious charm that is hard to decipher but impossible to ignore.

The Worst Person in the World was screened as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2021. A UK release date is yet to be announced.

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