Norwegian actress Renate Reinsve is the heart and soul of this touching and inventive account of one millennial life that unfolds over several years in Oslo and feels like it’s capturing the heartbeat of a city as well as honouring the rhythms and rituals of a generation. It’s full of playful filmmaking, from a young woman running through a city where everyone else is frozen in time, to a visual freakout when the same woman and her pals knock back a truckload of magic mushrooms. The ‘worst person’ is Julie (Reinsve), although to us she’s clearly doing her very best: she gives herself that tag in a moment of recognisable self-loathing. We follow Julie over a lively, frenetic, song-heavy prologue, 12 chapters and an epilogue as she moves through different modes of life and love, and the film circles especially on one long relationship with Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), a well-known comic book author 15 years her senior.
Danielsen Lie also starred in director and co-writer Joachim Trier’s Reprise (2006) and Oslo, August 31st (2011) – also penetrating films about young people finding and losing themselves in Oslo – and Trier has said he considers this a third film in a loose trilogy about his city. It’s Julie who’s in almost every frame of The Worst Person, but it’s surely Aksel who’s closest to Trier himself (co-writing again with Eskil Vogt) as the slightly older creative looking on sympathetically at a younger generation and feeling that his time in the sun may have passed just as theirs rises, however awkwardly. It’s a film as much about ageing as it’s about youth – which means that a sad wistfulness sits alongside its youthful energy.
The Worst Person is busy and bursting with recognisable experience. All the messiness of everyday life is here as Julie thinks of being a doctor, then a photographer, falls deeply for Aksel, but then feels the passion fade and is attracted by Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), a character closer to her own age and her own sense of drifting through life, not knowing where to land. It asks questions about maturity, about growing up, about knowing when you’ve arrived, or if you can ever really know if you’ve arrived if you don’t know exactly where you’re heading. Any film that can combine questions of mortality with funny, fully alive scenes of sex, social awkwardness, professional screw-ups and throwaway fun is a rich one. Its brilliant, full-on performance from Reinsve deserves to be celebrated far and wide.
In selected US theaters Feb 4, 2022. UK cinemas Mar 25.