Julie is confused. Confused about her life, her relationships, her career – everything. But that’s part of growing up, right? Coming of age tales are some of the most relatable and typically occur during the protagonist’s late teens and early twenties. Key word: typically.
“The Worst Person in the World” reinvents the classic coming of age story to adapt to Julie (relative newcomer Renate Reinsve) and her directionless, late twenties life. Like many, she doesn’t quite know who she is yet. So, she changes her career path, medicine to psychology to photography; hair, long to blonde to short and brown; and relationships, one-night stand to boyfriend to ex, all in the matter of the four-year time span this film covers.
It’s admirable to watch as a young woman completely reinvents herself time and time again simply because she can. Isn’t that what all of us want sometimes? But to Julie, this makes her the worst person in the world. She can never stay committed to one task and those around her feel the consequences of her actions.
In Julie’s most prominent relationship, she dates a man fifteen years her senior whose goal is to start a family with Julie. But how can Julie take on the responsibility of starting a family when she is not even responsible enough to care for herself?
This moral conundrum is exactly where writer Eskil Vogt and director Joachim Trier’s brilliant script explores. Through each of the film’s twelve chapters, not including a prologue and epilogue, the screenwriters craft a story that reads almost like a novel with chapter titles that help guide the audience to certain life events: such as chapter two, “Cheating.” Even though you have an inkling ahead of time that Julie is going to make an awful mistake, you still wait in anticipation and attempt to cheer her on throughout every scene.
For a character as flawed as Julie, the film never judges her actions. Trier allows for her sequences to play out in real time in order to give the audience control of the story. The film is simply just a slice of Julie’s life and we are allowed to have a totally unbiased view. It’s hard to not see a connection to Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha” and Greta Gerwig’s titular character who struggles to find herself.
With this, we get to really explore Julie and her thoughts. In the film’s most memorable scene, life becomes too complicated for Julie and she decides to change course in order to save herself by literally freezing life around her to concentrate on her own goals and ambitions. She races through the streets as pedestrians, cars, bikes and patrons at the coffee shop are frozen in time. Julie seems happy in the moment as she makes a rash decision that changes the events of the film.
But she’s given another opportunity to take control of her own life: even when her choice is affecting the lives of those around her. She leaves her boyfriend for another man even though the pair still clearly love and have a mutual respect for one another. It’s in the actors faces that you can almost feel the tears forming in their eyes, attempting to hide behind the forced smiles they masquerade their faces with.
These tender moments are what makes this film seem so real. We’ve all experienced heartbreak in one way or another. Some have been on both ends of the breakup, either receiving or initiating it. Either way, we understand every character solely because of Trier’s direction and script. “The Worst Person in the World” is so well orchestrated that it feels like a documentary at times.
After watching the film, it’s hard to think that Julie made any bad decisions in her life, instead they were simply lessons. Life is full of lessons and Trier’s film attempts to teach us that we have to deal with these consequences. It’s a tough pill to swallow, sure, but a necessary one.
This film perfectly showcases how moments in life begin and end, only for these moments to repeat and begin once again. Julie’s coming of age tale is one for the ages. It’s smart, delicate, hilarious and easily one of the best films in recent years.