The Worst Person in the World is currently my favourite film of the year. I know it’s only March but it’s beating Belfast, Licorice Pizza and The Batman, and it is the first new movie I’ve seen since January that I am sure is still going to be in my top ten come December. It is just so gently ambitious and by turns both sweet and audacious. It is small and it is epic and somehow in showing four years in the life of one Norwegian woman, this drama manages to show the whole of life for all people everywhere.
With the name of the film being what it is you might expect the protagonist to be some selfish miscreant but she’s not. She makes some impetuous choices for sure and she does hurt others, but she’s just a person who like many of us will occasionally feel like she deserves the nomenclature of that title because of how she handles her relationships, her professional endeavours and her wants. She isn’t the worst person in the world but like all humans she has doubts and insecurities and this is what the film is about.
Watching the movie actually put me in mind of Jeunet’s Amélie, not because it shares the tone of that film (it really doesn’t) but due to its focus on one woman in a demonstrably European city, living by her own rules and motivations. Also, Renate Reinsve’s Julie seems normal but like Audrey Tautou’s famous character she’ll know she’s not, again something that lots of people will relate to.
As well as subtly exploring these universal emotions, all life is similarly reflected by the events of the story. There is childhood and death here, there is love, betrayal, domesticity, work and play. All of social existence is presented in microcosm. Julie drives the narrative yet in many respects she is an observer of these events, and as such is our entry point into what happens. In this sense her experiences are our experiences which again I believe is entirely the point.
Everyday life this may be then but it is never humdrum. Everything is captured with the levels of drama and humour necessary and on occasion there are places Julia goes we wish we could go and things she does we wish we could do. This is perhaps best illustrated in an extended meet cute sequence that is exciting and frustrating in equal measure, because it is complicated, you know – like life. Outside of this there are also two incredible fantasy sequences, one fuelled by romantic longing and one by hallucinogenic substances.
Both of these scenes are ground breaking in their way but so opposed are they that they don’t feel like they even belong in the same film. One is utterly delightful and the other totally repellent, the first building on decades of romcoms and love stories on film and the other providing the trippiest of drug trips in all cinema history. Movies as diverse as Easy A and Eraserhead, Jerry Maguire and Jacob’s Ladder, Trainwreck and Trainspotting, The Big Sick and The Big Lebowski, Honeymoon in Vegas and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 50 First Dates and Altered States all somehow have something to learn from this movie. It’s impressive.
I also have to say that the soundtrack choices and the use of that music are great. I was introduced to more new bands in this movie than I was in decades of sitting with my muso friends in the pub, and there’s a few forgotten classics in there too. This works as finding new favourite recording artists is part of life too.
The Worst Person in the World is not perfect, I am sure something will have eclipsed it in my favour before Christmas, but it is a bold and touching piece of cinema and that is one of the best things in my world.
See it on the big screen from March 25th.
The Ripley Factor:
While the film has a female protagonist it doesn’t really feel life a very feminist movie. Reinsve is captivating in the lead role but her character could have actually been male without it changing too much of the story. There is a plot thread that explores her reluctance to have children and this will always be a very gender specific thing, as indeed it is here, and the aforementioned mushroom trip would not have been at all the same with a man. Arguably this is about it though. Director Joachim Trier has created a fascinating movie but there is no denying it would been different, and I would suggest better, with a skilled female at the helm. It would have been more about female experiences rather than just the experiences of a female.
There is some examination of misogyny in the film and their is an assertion that a sexist man can still be a nice man which gives which brings some depth and balance. Life is rarely as black and white as the movies. There is also some nudity in the movie but this is fairly well balanced between the genders.