'The Worst Person in the World' review: Being the worst isn't so bad

Norwegian Academy Award nominee is a triumph that takes on life, love and other uncertainties.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

A minor epic about uncertainty in both life and love, "The Worst Person in the World" is a revelation, a pitch-perfect romantic comic-drama that flips rom-com tropes so effectively that it winds up transcending the entire genre.

Renate Reinsve is radiant as Julie, a flighty 20-something in Oslo who isn't quite sure what she wants out of life. Who is, for that matter? Her journey unfolds over the course of 12 chapters — bookended by a prologue and an epilogue, of course — in Norwegian writer-director Joachim Trier's fresh, vibrant and deeply human story, which recently (and deservedly) nabbed nominations for both Best Original Screenplay and Best International Film at the upcoming Academy Awards. 

Renate Reinsve in "The Worst Person in the World."

Julie is a medical student who becomes a writer who transitions to photography. Her love life is just as unsettled: she's dating Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), an underground comic artist, when one night she meets a stranger at a party that she wanders into despite not knowing a single person there. That's Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), and they spend all night talking and forming a connection without either acting on their natural impulses. They agree to part ways, but the memory of their meeting lives on in the back of both of their minds. 

A chance encounter down the road brings all those feelings rushing back again. Both have significant others, but what if they didn't? Trier films a magical sequence of Julie dashing through the streets of Oslo, time frozen like a Mannequin Challenge video, where she steals a moment with Eivind while the rest of the world is on pause. It's as bright and effervescent as anything in "La La Land." 

Julie eventually gets her chance to be with Eivind, but did she really want him, or did she want the fantasy of their first encounter? Trier treats his heroine with an emotional honesty rarely afforded in the romantic comedy landscape. He's invested in her as a character, not as a stand-in for some sort of romantic ideal. 

"The Worst Person in the World" shifts again in its final act, and proves to be a poignant story about love and loss with a wisdom beyond its years. It's brought to life by Reinsve, who makes Julie fully formed, not broken or damaged but someone going through life and taking it as it comes. She doesn't have all the answers, and she's still figuring out the questions. She's far from the worst person in the world. She's a hero for our times.



'The Worst Person in the World'


Rated R: for sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and some language

Running time: 128 minutes

In theaters