in Criterion Month, Review

The Worst Person in the World (2021)

I wanted to close out Criterion Month with my best review yet. Finally, my opportunity to say something profound! So naturally, I pick a movie where I have no idea what I want to say. The Worst Person in the World wasn’t the movie I was expecting (in a good way). I expected something tongue-and-cheek (which it is from time to time) but not something this heavy with a message that so strongly speaks to my generation. So let’s go, watch me stumble through this one.

The Worst Person in the World is a coming of age story about Julie (Renate Reinsve), a bright but indecisive young woman living in Oslo. She begins as a medical student, then pivots to psychology, then to photography… This is too relatable. Along the way, Julie falls for an “edgy” older cartoonist named Aksel (Anders Danielsen). Julie moves in with Aksel and takes up writing.

At this point, I’m not sure what makes Julie “the worst” as the film seems to be going through the normal beats. The first half captures that funny yet awkward transition to adulthood to a tee, abled by grounded performances and an eclectic soundtrack. It’s a good time, until things get heavy in the latter half.

Feeling restless in Aksel’s shadow, Julie goes to a bar and falls for a barista named Eivind (Herbert Nordrum). Julie breaks it off with Aksel and starts a new life with Eivind. One part of this new life we get to see is the couple taking psychedelic mushrooms at a party. Now I’ve seen plenty of drug scenes in movies but this one takes the cake. In her hallucination, Julie is nude with the body of an older, plump woman, she throws a bloody tampon at her neglectful father, she sees Aksel’s cartoon cat character come to life, all sorts of insane shit.

On to the heavy stuff. Julie runs into Aksel’s brother at her bookstore job only to hear Aksel is dying of pancreatic cancer. So not only did she cheat on him, she cheated on him and now he’s dying. I’d feel like the worst person in the world too. To add insult to injury, Julie discovers she’s pregnant, even though she always shot down Aksel’s desire to have children.

The pair try to make amends in his last days, which is a powerful showcase for Renate Reinsve and Anders Danielsen’s range. Renate Reinsve especially. She’s going to be a star. Though even in the film’s more somber moments it never loses its sense of humor or spectacle. One small standout moment was a scene where we watch Aksel play air drums. It’s those little moments that add a lot of personality to this story.

But what hit me more than the cancer plotline is the film’s overall message about Millennials; that when life gets too hard, we pivot. We completely change our lives to try and find happiness, but there is no one path without bumps in the road. It’s a concept that hits far too close to home. The pressure put on on younger people to pick a path and follow it. Julie doesn’t want to follow any plan, she wants to live in the moment. It’s as terrifying as it is beautiful.

I wanted to write something profound, but I can’t when I’m still reflecting. The Worst Person in the World is the kind of movie you savor. It’s a movie you live in and then carry with you for awhile. It has plenty of visual splendor and memorable needle drops, but it’s the message that carried this movie to indie heartthrob status. That’s why it received Oscar nominations, that’s why it’s in the Criterion Collection, and that’s why I liked it.

Until next time, see ya later my fellow Criterion…philes? Yeah, let’s go with that. Bye!