The Worst Person in the World, directed by Joachim Trier, paints a beautiful picture of a woman growing up and making hard choices in Oslo, Norway. Julie, (Renate Reinsve), describes herself as flaky. Early in the film, she’s a medical student but then switches to psychology. After that she decides she’d like to be a photographer.
In the first half of the film everything feels cushioned and safe. The stakes for Julie are very low. She doesn’t worry about money or her career, especially when in a relationship.
She meets an older man named Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie) who writes a controversial comic book series. While their relationship is not full of confrontation, there are scenes where Aksel’s deep-set sexist ideas come through. In one scene Julie insists she is not ready to have children. But Aksel wants them and cannot understand why, at 29, Julie can’t make up her mind.
Commentary about sexism is littered throughout the film, from a conversation about mansplaining to a TV interview with Aksel where he condemns second wave feminists as “all the same.” It does all this with the same gentleness that runs throughout.
You won’t find rage at a sexist system here, more of a quiet understanding that it is an ever present factor in women’s lives.
Julie is a relatable protagonist in some ways. Her indecision about where her life will end up, and her fragility make her an endearing and likeable character. Many of us will chime with her tears as she walks away from a party where she doesn’t feel she belongs.
Reinsve’s performance as Julie is stunning. But her character still feels slightly like a male writer’s second hand fantasy of a modern woman. She’s messy in a curated way, always cool, with a perfect minimalist wardrobe.
Is this also a commentary on the pressure women feel to conform to specific sexist standards? It’s not clear. And what makes Julie’s character feel even less authentic is that she seemingly doesn’t have a single friend. Despite this there’s plenty to love in this film. It’s romantic, honest and has a lot of heart. It undoubtedly deserves the critical acclaim it’s received. But it’s OK to ask for even more from directors like Trier.
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