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Sundance Review: “The Worst Person in the World” Is a Moving Ode to Self-Actualization

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | February 3rd, 2022

Film poster: “The Worst Person in the World”

The Worst Person in the World (Joachim Trier, 2021) 3½ out of 4 stars. 

A coming-of-age tale for thirtysomething millennials (along with everyone else), Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World follows the romantic adventures and misadventures of its protagonist, who is many things, none of them less than profoundly human. There is no titular worst person, though at least one character voices fears that he might be. To question one’s place in a complex world is a universal activity, and Trier (Thelma) populates his cinematic canvas with a cast of fascinating, ordinary folks whose journeys never cease to hold our interest.

Foremost among them is Julie (Renate Reinsve, The Affected), whose odyssey is told in “12 chapters, a prologue and epilogue,” as an opening title card announces. When first we meet her, it is before any of that, as she stands on a balcony, smoking, in the magic hour of a late Scandinavian evening, pensive and not a little melancholy. We’ll circle back to this moment later in the film, but this restless tone will define Julie for much of the narrative.

l-r: Anders Danielsen Lie and Renate Reinsve in THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD ©Neon

In the prologue that follows, Julie is in medical school, though she quickly discovers that it is not as much to her liking as the pursuit of another interest: photography. In her late 20s at the start, she is still intent on exploring options, though she soon shacks up with a comic-book artist in his mid-40s, Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie, Bergman Island). Though he tries to break up with her, worried that she will one day wake up and realize her mistake, she insists, and so begins a great love affair.

Nevertheless, two chapters later, in a section labelled “Cheating,” Julie almost does just that, wandering away from an exhibit of Aksel’s work (where she stood on the aforementioned balcony) to crash a random wedding. There, she meets Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) a man her age with whom she forms an instant connection. Though they never quite consummate what the chapter heading promises, they enjoy the flirtation (Eivind is himself attached, too). They will meet again.

l-r: Herbert Nordrum and Renate Reinsve in THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD ©Neon

Over the course of the remaining installments, we watch Julie cross the threshold into 30, change course many times, discover love more than once, suffer tragedy and loss, and ultimately find herself. A brilliant fantasy sequence at the halfway point shows Julie and Eivind galivanting through an Oslo otherwise frozen in time, the two of them the only free spirits. It’s an enchanting moment, even if Julie still has far to go afterwards.

Ultimately, through scenes of raw emotion, passionate sex, deep conversations (including vital ones about gender and misogyny) and frenzied argument, Julie experiences the joy and pain of living, and we join in vicariously. Is she sometimes selfish? Yes, but isn’t everyone? She’s also generous of spirit. Above all, she is a force to be reckoned with, and the movie about her is a dramatic tour de force. Reinsve won the Best Actress Award at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. It was extremely well-deserved.


Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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