Movie Review: “The Worst Person in the World,” Norway’s best hope for an Oscar

Julie is in med school, cramming so that she can master the finer points of surgery, or at least keep up the grades she needs to stay in school.

Only she’d rather try her hand at psychotherapy, joining the ranks of “Norway’s future spiritual advisors.” Sure, her classmates will be “mostly girls with eating disorders.” But who better to listen to and treat the unhappy?

Then again, maybe photography is her bag. Let’s get a camera and take some classes.

She starts an affair with a professor. But there’s this younger (still older than her) underground comic creator that catches her eye. For now.

Just don’t start nagging her about children or questioning whether taking a job in a bookstore is how one becomes a writer. Because that’s next.

And if that’s next, who comes after the comic book artist?

Yes, Julie is young, thin, beautiful and fickle, flighty and awfully careless with other people’s feelings and with commitment. But is she really “The Worst Person in the World?”

Joachim Trier finishes off his “Oslo Trilogy” (“Reprise,” “Oslo, August 31st”) with a meandering, deadpan dissection of one aimless-by-generation young woman as she tries to figure out what the hell it is she wants. Or who.

“Verdens verste menneske,” as it is titled in Norwegian (it’s subtitled) is kind of a Gen Z “Singles” or “St. Elmo’s Fire,” with just one “single,” a “finding yourself” without taking a journey film, it offers a taste of living without a firm life plan that’s not exactly a comedy “in twelve chapters, a prologue and an epilogue.”

Cannes award winner Renate Reinsve has the title role, a beguiling and infuriating, not particularly self-aware advertisement for the concept “Just what the hell do women her age want these days?”

If that sounds harsh — consider. Over the course of four years, Julie changes career paths repeatedly, as people with options and the luxury of time a socialist (ish) education system can. She moves in with three different guys, always taking up with the next while she’s still allegedly-committed to the current, lying when asked “Have you met someone else?”

That poor associate professor had no chance when the star writer/illustrator of “Bobcat” comics, Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie) catches her eye at a party. He’s a few years older and when they weekend with his extended family, they get a dose of the good and the bad of parenting. Smitten she may be, because he’s ready to try child-rearing, maybe just to fit in with his siblings. Julie? She’s not “in the same place,” and willing to get in a row over it.

“It’s like you’re waiting for something, I don’t know what,” he fumes.

She stalks out of a party with his friends and crashes another down the street, alluring and lured when she takes in Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) who is taking in the party — and her — from the end of a sofa.

Their flirtation without “cheating” is the best of the film’s “let’s flip rom-com conventions.” It’s a “meet cute” with each of the people coupled and committed to others. “Cheating,” they agree, is bad. So what to do with this instant chemistry? They test where “the line” in — sharing smoke from a joint, sniffing each other’s armpits, watching each other use the toilet.

Who says romance is dead?

Julie’s best bet for coping with indecision is stopping time — freezing everybody she knows or runs into in place as she trial-runs the idea of bailing on one guy and taking up with another.

Later, when as part of a new couple, there’s a magic mushroom ride engagingly envisioned by Trier, with Julie hallucinating her lithe youthful body in old age and working out her “daddy” issues, at least as long as the mushroom’s haze lasts.

Through it all, Julie half-struggles with her “worst” impulses — with dishonesty, with her chronic indecision. Through it all, a narrator drolly notes Julie’s problems with the truth. A suggestion that “We might get back together” during a breakup merits, “Then and there, Julie meant it.” And through it all, episodes of life play out in chapters titled “Julie’s Narcissistic Circus” and “Bad Timing.”

Reinsve makes a more beguiling than compelling lead, letting on Julie’s “flakey” qualities, giving us hints that she’s self-aware enough to be bothered by them.

The men our anti-heroine encounters share a general powerlessness in the relationships. One who tries to end their coupling finds her overruling him with her wiles and sex appeal.

“Worst Person,” directed by a man, scripted by two men, suggests a certain judgment of this generation of young women as we follow Julie’s story. It’s not an endorsement of her aimlessness, not a condemnation of it and not really an explanation. Make your own inferences about the career confusion, co-dependencies and gender uncertainty that seem to be its most talked-about hallmarks. of Gen Z.

Yes, Julie moves back home for a bit. Yes, her mother’s supportive, tolerant of her whims, but confused. No, Julie doesn’t change pronouns.

One thing you can say for Trier’s Oslo trilogy. He makes the city look real and lived-in, as opposed to most films which make it look like some austere statement on Scandinavian minimalism and better living through chilly socialist design.

I can’t say I have a firm handle on what it’s all about, or that Trier does either. But he’s made a wistful, ironic film about being young, having options and “waiting for something” that will perhaps make up one’s mind for one.

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

Cast: Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie, Herbert Nordrum

Credits: Directed by Joachim Trier, scripted by Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt. A Neon release.

Running time: 2:08

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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