‘The Worst Person in the World’ is the best

Probably best described as a romantic comedy-drama, the buzzy Norwegian film is now screening in Columbus

Brad Keefe
"The Worst Person in the World" starring Renate Reinsve

One of the most buzzed-about foreign language films of the past year is arriving in Columbus theaters this weekend in “The Worst Person in the World.”

Probably best described as a romantic comedy-drama, it’s harder to pin down its genre than it is to just accept that the film is an absolute delight. It’s certainly funny, sometimes hilarious, and there are plenty of heart-swelling moments of love, but it’s not exactly a rom-com. And it shows enough painful but relatable exchanges in the ups and downs of relationships to be an enthralling and fantastically acted drama.

But at its heart, “Worst Person” is really a character study, a coming-of-age movie about a different age than most tackle. And that’s what makes it special.

Norwegian director/co-writer Joachim Trier tells the story of Julie (Renate Reinsve) in 12 chapters (plus a prologue and an epilogue) detailing a key period of her life over a few years.

The prologue indicates a kind of indecisiveness that is also seen in Julie’s romantic life. She begins her time at university as a med student, before deciding she’s more interested in psychology, then photography. She ends up working in a bookshop.

Her romantic life during this time is similar. Men easily fall in love with her, but she has a tendency to grow bored and look to the next thing.

Post-college, there are two central romances in Julie’s life. Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), a famous 40-something graphic novelist who’s intellectually enchanting to her, but also a bit too enchanting to himself.

Julie quickly moves in with Aksel, but their age difference becomes a strain, particularly when a weekend family retreat where Julie is the youngest adult raises the issue of when to have children.

While still living with Aksel, Julie crashes a wedding party and meets Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), a barista who is more age-appropriate. There’s an instant and mutual attraction that’s not acted upon (much) because Eivind is also in a relationship.

So the core plot is the story of a young woman finding herself and choosing between two suitors. I don’t want to turn anyone off with this very loose comparison, but I was reminded a bit of the try-hard ’90s classic “Reality Bites.” You certainly won’t find that level of cringe-worthy corniness here, but the two films share that plot of competing and very different romantic interests and (mostly) a lack of judgment of the person making that choice.

Trier sets up a bit of a misdirect in the title, as Julie is not the “Worst Person” referenced there. There’s a warmth to everything about this movie, even when it’s darker, and Julie is the reason. And, yes, it’s also funny. No spoilers because there’s no way you’ll guess the context, but the line of the year has to be, “One of the most iconic buttholes ever.”

Of course, the movie would only be as good as its lead performance, and Reinsve is a revelation of comic timing and nuance, revealing a deep understanding of the assignment: depicting the kind of drift that often occurs in one’s late 20s and early 30s. We’re tasked with deciding what kind of adult we want to be as soon we leave high school. That’s not how humans work.

This isn’t approached the same way as, say, Judd Apatow’s man-child comedies where the character is stuck in a state of arrested development until life forces them out of it.

Julie’s dilemma isn’t choosing between two men; it’s doing so while also trying to find out who she is and what she wants. It’s a process of defining herself while learning how to not do that solely through the men in her life. And it’s refreshing to see a movie that acknowledges the reality that people grow in self-discovery throughout their lives without infantilizing an adult who is on their own journey.

Though it was technically a 2021 release, “The Worst Person in the World” is the best film of early 2022.

“The Worst Person in the World”

Now playing at the Drexel Theatre and Gateway Film Center

5 stars out of 5